When Mark Zuckerberg rose to prominence as a successful young entrepreneur in the early noughties his age, as much as his immense success, set him apart from the crowd.
Now, while he is still in a league of his own, his youth no longer makes him unique. Along with individuals such as Andrew Mason (founder of Groupon), Matthew Mullenwerg (founding developer of WordPress) and Naveen Selvadurai (co-founder of Foursquare) he is part of a new age in which young entrepreneurship is embraced and even encouraged.
The number of new businesses started by people under 35 has more than doubled since 2006, according to Duedil. Meanwhile separate research has found that 15% of undergraduates plan to launch their own startups after they graduate.
But it’s no easy feat to forge your own path and start a business from scratch – believe me, with two under my belt, I should know. So what’s the appeal?
As millennials, developments in technology and attitudinal shifts have enabled us to have greater freedom than any generation before us. As teenagers, we could stray further from home because our parents could always get hold of us on our mobiles, we could talk to friends at all times of the day through the rise of social media, and our upbringing has been infused with the message that we can be or do anything we want.
Some say that this has created a more dissatisfied generation, who struggle with the limitations of a typical nine-five. However, I’d argue that we are instead a generation that simply finds satisfaction and motivation in jobs that sit outside of the realms of the traditional workplace, and cater to our needs for control and freedom.
When I decided to shut down my first startup, I didn’t consider it a waste of time or effort for even a second.
A recent study revealed that 45% of graduate entrepreneurs chose to found their own companies out of a desire to get ahead of the career curve and be their own boss. Coupled with the effects of the recession, and additional research by Endsleigh that showed only 34% of graduates find work in their careers of choice, the motivation becomes clear. We want to take charge of our destinies, to know that we are the person deciding our career trajectory.
Having worked in both a corporate environment, at Barclays and Rothschild, and as the CEO and co-founder of a startup, I have also witnessed first-hand the difference in your sense of purpose working toward someone else’s vision versus your own. The latter allows you to fully explore your unorthodox side and gratify your creative self, which, for many of us, is crucial to our happiness and mental wellbeing.
But doesn’t a lack of experience play against you I hear you cry?
Of course, there’s no denying that wisdom comes with age. But being a young entrepreneur doesn’t preclude you from seeking advice from more seasoned businessmen. If you’ve got strong story-telling capabilities and high levels of emotional intelligence, developing a rapport with mentors will be well within reach. Often, youth can also be your advantage, not least of all in the sense of time, resilience and the energy needed to bounce back from setbacks.
Maturity before our time, energy, resilience and our ability to take risks all lend us to the job.
When I decided to shut down my first startup, after having gone through four iterations of the brand, I didn’t consider it a waste of time or effort for even a second. I was able to appreciate that the years I had dedicated to it had given me great insight into the dynamics of commerce and, more importantly, myself, which have been essential to making my current business a success. And I’m sure this is a mind-set many that young entrepreneurs can relate to.
Youth, and arguably the naivety that comes with it, also provides us with the capability to take risks. We can invest our money and effort in riskier enterprises because we don’t need to worry about providing for anyone but ourselves. Those with families have other commitments to consider. Similarly, as a young entrepreneur, you’re unlikely to have been conditioned to think in a certain way, making it easier to think outside the box.
Beyond the skills that lend young people to entrepreneurial careers, we are also seeing this option become increasingly viable. The internet has democratised entrepreneurship as, unlike traditional industries where capital requirements were high, the financial barriers to launching a startup on this platform, including initial costs and investment, are significantly reduced.
The allure of freedom and adventure is tempting many young people to the path of the entrepreneur. And, while not everyone will be the next Zuckerberg, age is certainly not the stumbling block it once was. Maturity before our time, energy, resilience and our ability to take risks all lend us to the job; it’s no surprise that the young entrepreneur has become the new normal.