4 Business Lessons for Millennial Entrepreneurs
Millennials think of themselves as the innovation generation but, for all our creativity, we have not quite crossed the divide into the success generation. At least, not in large scale business.
At first, it would seem that individuals like Evan Spiegel at Snapchat and Alexis Ohanian at Reddit are proof of our ambition and startup spirit. However, when you take a closer look, you realize Spiegel and Ohanian are the exception rather than the norm. Research conducted at the Pew Research Center indicates that millennials are actually not very entrepreneurial and fail often.
A study of 2014 data by the U.S. Small Business Administration revealed that fewer than 4 percent of 30-year-olds are actively in entrepreneurship, compared with the 5.4 percent of Generation X-ers and 6.7 percent of baby boomers at the same age.
Here are a few lessons for millennials through the lens of entrepreneurs who have had inspiring success. These individuals are not just inspiring, but teach vital lessons that we can use to change the trend and change it fast.
1. Stop giving it a try -- go all in!
Statistics show that millennials are less entrepreneurial and fail more often, but deeper research shows the reason. Many of us are just shooting some hoops, trying to get one in the basket. Many millennials say they would like to be their own boss, but far fewer take the plunge. Although there is far more support available in the form of incubators, cultural acceptance and recognition of entrepreneurs “there is still a gap between the ambition the [millennial] generation actually have and those that go on to start a business,” says Robert Osborne of the Centre for Entrepreneurs, a think tank in London.
So what would you do if you have a bubbling entrepreneurial vision but also a bucket load of student loan debt and $200 cash? If these things stop you, you have invested a lot of time in excuses when you should have been investing in your vision. Mogul CEO Tiffany Pham found herself in the exact same situation, and as a young woman in the entrepreneurial space, it was even more difficult. However, she had only one way to go -- forward.
"If I didn’t have those millions of dollars to hire a team of engineers then how could I make a difference myself? Maybe I could just teach myself how to code and build this platform myself,” Pham opined. She wasn’t kidding either; she took several day jobs while learning to code at night.
Pham depicts the spirit that we all wish more millennials would incorporate. In her words, “I invest where it’s really important right now, so every dollar goes into Mogul.” As a result, Mogul has grown rapidly as a social enterprise providing women in 196 countries and 30,470 cities with information access, economic opportunity and education.
2. Innovate around innovations.
“The entrepreneur of this age is one who discovers where the world is going and goes there first.” This quote is often attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates. It has been adopted by many millennials in their bid for entrepreneurial dominance. While we are often seen as the innovation generation, looking too far into the future has become another source of the business lethargy among us.
Not everyone is going to make something out of nothing. Sometimes, you only have to watch what has been made and make something new out of what is. For instance, rather than create the world’s next Samsung, why not invest in creating the best music app on the Samsung Galaxy?
Since the turn of the century, the conversation in the automobile industry began returning to electric cars and hybrids, while all the big brands were launching into manufacturing. FLO, alongside other creative and smart companies, launched into making home and commercial electric car chargers and charging points.
FLO is just one example of companies that thrive around innovation. They built their brand and product around an already existing innovation. Perhaps if millennials started thinking of innovation in these terms, they would find it to be less of a Herculean task and will get more involved in entrepreneurial innovation.
In the words of Louis Tremblay, president and CEO of FLO and another millennial entrepreneur, “FLO is at the forefront of innovation, and we take pride in leading the way to make EV charging more accessible and more convenient."
Sometimes, innovation just means making it easier for people to use an already existing product.
3. If it's all about you, you probably won’t last.
The first question I ask millennial wanna-be entrepreneurs is, “Why do you want to become an entrepreneur?” The response varies from the vague "to change the world," to the more common "to make a lot of money." The problem is, most people are focusing on the possible end results of entrepreneurship rather than vetting their inner motivations, which are often key to reaching those results.
Nick Pena admits to being in this circle until he suffered a massive sports injury. The injury gave him time to reflect about life and time to read. One of his friends died during this time period as well. Pena started reading about investment and slowly began unveiling its mysteries. However, the passion that was born from all of his study was not the shallow desire to make it big, but a desire to educate as many as possible to infiltrate the investment market and succeed. He credits his massive success to his need to empower others, not himself.
Fast forward few years later, and Nick is not just very successful as an investor, he has become an Instagram sensation and influencer and spends his time doing what he loves best -- teaching others via his company, The Trade Academy. All he does is in keeping with his ideals. “Never make entrepreneurship all about you or you would not last very long," he says.
Millennials haven’t quite gotten this message.
4. Success is never self made.
There is no self- made business or self-made millionaire instead. Millennials need to drop the idea of the self-made and start seeing business as a space dominated by strategic partnerships and affiliations. I was fortunate to be on a panel that vetted some business plans submitted by some aspiring millennial entrepreneurs. We were grossly disappointed by the number of millennials trying to build do-it-all businesses.
In this age and time, it is unnecessary to build such companies. There are way too many companies that specialize in ancillary roles like marketing, content creation, web management and graphics. While it is true that a company can grow to create all these departments, the inability to have them right at the start is no crime.
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, the 27-year-old cofounder of Andela and Flutterwave, calls his story of success a story of “failure, success and collaboration.” He unashamedly attributes the success of Andela to the Facebook partnership they succeeded in acquiring.
Millennials must learn to create profitable partnerships and business relationships while they are still trying to kick off their entrepreneurial journey. If that means you are not self-made then you are great company because no one ever is.
While the business climate is a bit different than it was for the generation before us, we also have way more tools and platforms than they ever had at our age. It’s high time we ditched the excuses and started taking advantage of them.