7 Lessons for Young Entrepreneurs from a NASCAR Solopreneur
Julia Landauer knew she wanted to pursue racing as a career by the time she was 12. At that time, she and her parents started organizing her life around her dream. Landauer began working hard on and off the track, trying to land small sponsorships and grow brand awareness. Since that time she has become a NASCAR Next and NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver. At 24 years old, she has made a name for herself in a male-dominated sport, and done it all on her own, from handling her own publicity to personally pounding the pavement for sponsors -- landing herself on the One Love Foundation/GCR team. She has also become a sought-after speaker and an advocate for women in STEM.
As entrepreneurship grows in popularity, and the internet continues to provide new opportunities, more and more tweens and teens are following their entrepreneurial passions. Here are a few lessons for those hustlers and their families from the successful speaker, spokesperson, athlete and driver.
Pursuing a dream and building a business, while still in school, requires a lot of energy and focus. Landauer missed around 130 days of high school for racing. She missed not only homework, but also the big games, pep rallies and birthday parties as well. The way to juggle it all well, she says, is to be fully present where you are when you’re there.
“When I was at school, I really dedicated myself to being in school. I try to be very present where I am, and I knew I wasn't gonna be able to hang out with [friends] on the weekends,” she shared. “So when I was there, I really tried to make sure I was giving my friends the attention.”
Tailor your education.
There is an entire discussion about the state of the four-year college education in the United States that we won’t dive into here, but you can see why someone building a racing career may decide to skip university altogether. Landauer wanted her degree, though, so she decided to tailor her major for her specific needs. She blended computer science, mechanical engineering, communications, history and English. She wanted to “get a well-rounded education to be able to help, primarily with my racing career and brand.” At 18, having been in racing for eight years, she knew what was expected. She wanted some technical knowledge about the machinery, but she also needed to excel at communicating on camera, writing sponsorship proposals, making presentations and selling herself.
“When you're hungry for something, you figure out what you need to do to make it work,” she explained.
Figure out the training you need to set yourself up for success, outside of your specific talents. This could mean honing your writing skills, learning basic coding, public speaking, etc. A few of my guests on The Pursuit say focus only on your strengths, but I have found that the reality for most is this: You won’t be able to outsource all of your weaknesses for years. Build your strengths in the most important brand-building areas where you need improvement.
Tell your authentic story.
Learn from one of Landauer’s mistakes. During college she had the opportunity to be a contestant on Survivor, but she did not get much exposure because she was “bland.”
“It was a good branding lesson for me. I chose not to tell people I went to Stanford, but I was a sophomore in college, so my whole world I was concealing, and I just realized I didn't have as much to talk about.”
From then on, she realized she had to own who she is and accept that she will not appeal to everyone. She advises people to work on conveying their personality and telling their story in a way that will benefit other people.
Landauer has made a few really smart moves. For example, she met someone who worked in investing and asked the person to look over her pitch deck, simply for the critique.
“That kind of help was really great, and that's a blessing and a gift,” she said, “Just practicing stuff when people say no, I had no shame in asking them, 'Okay, what was not attractive to you? What didn't work?'"
It takes guts to ask for that kind of honest feedback.
She is also not afraid to reach out to her mentors for guidance and support. These mentors include past teachers, her parents, industry acquaintances and Lyn St. James, who formed the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation.
Capitalize on what makes you different.
Obviously, performance is the main driver (pun intended) of exposure and sponsorship. However, Landauer realized early on that she can use her disadvantages to appeal to certain sponsors.
“Danica [Patrick] is a really good example; she hasn't won a race yet, but she's one of the highest earning NASCAR drivers and she brings in a ton of money to the sport. So, it really depends whatever value the company is looking for.”
She explained that finding those ideal sponsors takes a lot of research and clear communication with potential brands. She said she has to ask, What do you need? What problems are you trying to solve? And is there a way that me and my platform and NASCAR can be beneficial to that?
Which leads to my next point . . .
Realize it’s not about you.
Young entrepreneurs -- and even seasoned entrepreneurs who are working on a brand new project or business -- are overflowing with passion. Sometimes that passion leads to the belief that everyone else will also be excited, and ready to get out their checkbooks. Realize again that results are what matter. What value do you provide? Remind yourself that the market is the market and, frankly, it doesn’t care about your passion.
Landauer explained, “[One important lesson] is that you have to assume that no one's gonna be supporting you and no one's gonna be in your favor. Assume that your agenda does not align with other people's agenda . . . . You have to be your harshest critic. Hopefully you have a group around you, whether it's family or friends, or partners who will help you. But, I found that, I would assume that people would have wanted to help me and they didn't,” she added. “Don't let other people's lack of creativity and lack of vision get in your way.”
Which leads to my last lesson from Landauer:
Believe in yourself.
Breaking into Nascar, especially as a young female from New York, is no easy task. To her fellow underdogs out there, Landauer says you must find a way to stay confident and believe in yourself.
“I know that sounds kind of silly and cliche and everything, but if you don't have confidence, why would anyone else want to help you if they were interested? So if you have a journal to write, if you need to look in a mirror and pump yourself up, do that.”
Personally, in moments self-doubt, Landauer writes out “the facts” about her career and her accomplishments to remind herself she’s doing well. I love this approach and use it myself. Take out the emotion and instead write out your highlight reel as you would about a stranger.
Watch in-depth interviews with celebrity entrepreneurs on The Pursuit with Kelsey Humphreys.
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