The Lessons I Learned As a Teen Entrepreneur
Advice for young entrepreneurs on how to avoid pitfalls and start out their professional endeavors on the right footing.
The business world is full of gatekeepers. Your ability to acquire funding, find business partners, network and even retain clients can hinge on signifiers outside your control. Historically, white males over the age of 35 have controlled the levers of entrepreneurship in the United States. Fortunately, the onset of the internet and technology has largely flipped this dynamic on its head. Young inventors and entrepreneurs from various backgrounds have changed the landscape, paving the way for a new generation of diverse business innovators.
However, while these changes have opened the door for young entrepreneurs, it hasn't made the path easy — particularly for teenagers. When I launched my first startup, Milan Farms, I was 16 years old. In the subsequent years, I focused on new businesses, including Guin Records, an artist-driven hip hop label I co-founded with my sister, Misha. Though becoming a serial entrepreneur in my youth comes with a lot of sleepless nights, it taught me a number of important lessons about myself, my businesses and the pursuit of success.
More than anything, I want to help young entrepreneurs make the world a better place for all of us, and I hope that I can provide a few pearls of wisdom to make the process just a little bit easier.
Learn and absorb all that you can
The prevailing thought process among young entrepreneurs is that innovation should trump all else. After all, we often dump most of the world's existing problems on boomers and other past generations, so why should we listen to what they have to say? Moreover, the vast majority of highly successful entrepreneurs have been industry interrupters — they came up with ideas that completely revolutionized antiquated processes and products.
However, innovating does not mean ignoring the voices of generations past. On the contrary, learning from our elders is one of the only ways that we can figure out new methods of looking at existing problems.
It's not all about age, either. To build a successful business, you must be willing to absorb knowledge wherever you can find it. Become a lifelong learner. Whether you spend hours on YouTube, listen to other young entrepreneurs, take courses, read or do your own personal research, you should always find ways to learn more. In doing so, you can approach problems from a vantage point that is simultaneously new and groundbreaking, while still grounded in the collective knowledge of both current and past innovators.
Don't use your age as a crutch
It's tempting to use age-related barriers as an excuse or crutch when things get tough. While this may make failures and setbacks a little less painful, it will ultimately make it much harder to overcome them. Starting a business at any age is difficult, particularly when you haven't even finished high school. As a result, you will likely be encouraged to wait or risk facing insurmountable barriers along the way.
For example, when I first started to work on Dormzi and Guin Records, I was surrounded by naysayers. It wasn't that people didn't want to support me. In fact, many of them simply wanted to protect me from disappointment. Nonetheless, I had to wade through these voices and trust that I had what it took to run my own business at such a young age.
This applies to teens who have already taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, too. You're inevitably going to face an uphill battle, particularly with people who think you're too young or inexperienced to run a business. While you should certainly listen to skeptics, you shouldn't let this mentality affect your drive to succeed, and you shouldn't respond emotionally. At the end of the day, you can't be successful without believing in yourself. If you start to believe that you're too young to be successful, it will become true. Therefore, never let yourself use your age as an excuse or allow others to make yourself doubt your potential based upon your age. Use your age as an advantage: You have more energy than you likely ever will, more drive to build, more drive to learn and most likely the least responsibilities you will ever have.
Stay up to date on the latest trends
From a cultural standpoint, the differences between each generation are becoming more and more distinct. Just a few years ago, millenials were seen as the generation that embodied the latest trends. Then, the torch was passed on to Gen Z. Now, talking heads and experts are already looking to Gen Alpha as the latest trendsetters — until the next generation comes along to replace them.
These constant cultural shifts can make it difficult to feel on top of the latest trends, even as a teenager. With technology and social media accelerating the rate of change faster than some people can process, it can feel like a burden just to stay on top of all things new. However, as a young entrepreneur, it's vital to keep your fingers on the pulse of new tech, cultural trends and business ventures.
The bottom line
I won't sugarcoat it: Teen entrepreneurs will have a hard time being taken seriously and opening doors. In many cases, you'll have to work twice as hard as older entrepreneurs to get a foothold. Even if you have your business up and running, you'll still have to put in long hours and make a lot of sacrifices to grow and flourish. Fortunately, it's not all bad news. While every entrepreneur's path is a little different, most love what they do. So if you know this is the path for you, I hope that these tips can offer a window into my experiences and help teen entrepreneurs build fulfilling, revolutionary businesses for future generations.
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