Millennial entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now–and rightfully so.
However, the reason why this is such a controversial topic for people is because never before have there been so many opportunities for young people to succeed as well–and on their own terms. This, of course, ruffles the feathers of the ones who came before and did things pre-Internet days.
But as a millennial myself, I will be the first to point out that millennials don’t mean “harm” in their pursuits. They simply see the opportunities in front of them, and want to make the most of what is at their disposal.
To break down this topic of how other millennials can also take advantage of all these wonderful opportunities of the modern age, I reached out to a fellow millennial entrepreneur. Peter Kozodoy, Chief Strategy Officer of GEM Advertising, shared with me the things he felt were most crucial to the process of building something of your own.
Define Your Lifestyle
Peter started off by explaining that, “Starting and growing a business will squeeze every drop of energy out of you as an entrepreneur. Think about what you want your average day, week and month to look like. Are you traveling a lot? Are you stuck behind a computer? Will you be serving clients? Creating products? Managing warehouses? Every entrepreneur should not only think about the role of owning a company, but should also think about the role he or she plays inside the company. A bit of strategic thinking and planning at the beginning will go a long way towards ensuring that, three years in, you’re still happy and satisfied with your choice to become an entrepreneur.”
He went on to pose the question: “Decide who will fund you: VC or your Customers.”
“I know plenty of entrepreneurs who have raised tons of money, built wonderful teams, launched innovative products, run out of money, closed up shop, and gotten jobs at their nearest investment banking firm. Yes, some bust out of this deadly rainbow and succeed, but the reality is that the presence of a VC drastically changes the daily decision-making within an organization. Flush with cash, entrepreneurs tend to make different decisions than if they were bootstrapping the organization, which can have real consequences down the line. My advice: If you can sell your product or service to a customer and use the customer’s cash to fund your growth, you’ll always have more freedom and make better choices than a VC-backed startup. That said, there are some products and services that need massive investments. But just because you take VC money, doesn’t mean you can’t use it frugally.”
Accept Some Harsh Realities About The Business World
Hooray! You’re a millennial: You’re tech savvy, fast-moving, full of ideas and ready to go. That’s wonderful; except, the business world is still run by older ladies and gentlemen who aren’t tech savvy, aren’t fast-moving, and don’t want disruptive ideas.
Peter explained that, “For every innovative business leader I encounter, I meet 20 more who reject innovation like the plague. If you’re a B2B company, that means you’re going to have to get really good at moving your prospects along towards your (presumably better) solution. If you’re a B2C company, you have a different problem: We’re in the age of the customer, where they can squash your reputation in a moment on Yelp or Facebook. Prepare to be very buttoned up when it comes to customer service, and employ an effective PR team. Sooner or later, you’ll need it.”
Don’t Ignore The Boring Industries
Entrepreneurship is not reserved for the “popular” industries. As Peter said, “Some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs I know launched brands in the most boring of industries. If you’re a well-spoken, entertaining, intelligent and savvy individual, you might want to own a glamorous app development company. But, what if you owned a payment processing company, instead? What if you brought the fun branding of an advertising agency to, say, the flooring industry? There are lots of industries that have yet to be disrupted, and are waiting for a trickle-down effect. Look to these less-glamorous industries if you want to build massive value (and get paid massively in return!).”
No Rest For The Wicked
Peter, like other young entrepreneurs out in the wild for the first time, explained that the glory doesn’t come for quite a while–and is especially absent in the beginning.
“Picture this: You get up at 5am, get in the car and drive four hours to a meeting with a potential business relationship. You show up, only to learn that a) the person canceled, b) the person isn’t anywhere near ready to help you, c) the person doesn’t have the resources he or she promised you, or d) the person just wanted to try to sell you something. This happens. All. The. Time. As an entrepreneur, you spend your days picking through people to find the one person who can move either your immediate or long-term needs forward. When you find that person, you get to celebrate for 6 seconds before you have to move on to your next challenge. And you can’t complain to anyone, because – congratulations! – you’re the boss. This is why organizations like EO and YEC are so important; they provide a peer group you can lean on when the daily grind eventually wears you down.”
As I quickly learned from Peter, someone who has run the race and made it to the other side, entrepreneurship is not always what you imagine it to be. It is filled with unexpected challenges, and “success” has far more to do with one’s ability to pivot and adjust along the way than anything else.