I’ve spent most of the month of June contemplating youth. Mine, which is long gone (something I was painfully reminded of by a recent birthday) and that of the young entrepreneurs here on AllBusiness.com this week. After interviewing most of them, I realized that instead of believing like George Bernard Shaw that, “Youth is wasted on the young,” I more agree with Pablo Picasso’s sentiment that “Youth has no age.” In other words, you’re never too young to start a business.
The entrepreneurs profiled in our special report, Entrepreneurship: The Next Generation, belong to the Millennial generation (also referred to as “Generation Y”), generally considered to be those people born between 1980 and 2000. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this demographic: That they think they’re entitled, that they don’t want to work hard, that they’re overconfident and undermotivated. But my own personal experiences with Millennials — as an aunt, a journalist, and a small-business expert — tells me that nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the things that struck me about the young and successful folks we talked to was how many thought, or knew, they could change the world. Before you dismiss this goal as the folly of youth, many of them are well on their way. I know that nearly every generation proclaims they want to change the world — mine certainly did. But something strikes me a little differently about those who make these claims today. There’s almost a determined desperation about it; it’s as if they feel they have to or there might not be a world worth saving in the future.
Back when I first entered the realm of entrepreneurs, there were few people who aspired to be business owners. It really wasn’t until the 1990s (or late ’80s) that the meme changed and entrepreneurs became the new American heroes. This has, in a way, made it easier to become an entrepreneur today. There are classes you can take, books you can read, informative websites you can access in seconds. And, more notably, there are role models; famous folks who “made it big” who aspiring entrepreneurs can relate to, emulate, and admire.
In reality, entrepreneurs have existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And while some aspects of business ownership have changed vastly over the years, others remain the same. The entrepreneurial mantra “Find a need and fill it” has sparked many a successful business. And it continues to do so. One young man we talked to, Edgar Holguin of Los Angeles, Calif., just launched his own business at 18. Edgar, a member of NFTE, a group that teaches entrepreneurship to teens, designs and sells customized wood wall mounts and stands for flat screen TVs. His reason for starting a business? Personal need. “I have a plasma TV, “he told me, “and the wall mounts available looked [too] simple and didn’t reflect my personality.”
Like any entrepreneur, Edgar is driven by “the ability to create something from nothing.” And that’s what so much of the thrill is all about. Entrepreneurs start with nothing and create a business, a chain, a worldwide empire.
When asked how he measures success, Edgar’s answer “By accomplishing my goals, setting more goals, and trying my best to achieve them” reminded me of another once-young entrepreneur. Fred DeLuca started out at 17, armed with a $1,000 given to him by a family friend to start a “submarine sandwich shop.” Today, 45 years later, DeLuca still runs that business — Subway, now the world’s largest franchise. One of the keys to DeLuca’s success has been setting goals, meeting (or beating) them, and then immediately setting new ones.
Launching a business is like a crapshoot. Success is never guaranteed, no matter how old or young you are at startup. There have been ubersuccessful businesses built by teenagers (DeLuca) as well as by sexagenarians (Colonel Sanders started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 62.) But starting young does have its advantages: There’s less to risk and more to gain, and if your first attempt at business doesn’t work, you have lots of time to try again.
There’s something to be said for the idealism of youth, for the ability to just plunge in without fear of failure. The entrepreneurs we spotlight in our special report are well aware that many older people mistakenly believe their generation to be a bunch of entitled, spoiled brats. But they don’t care. They set out to make an “impact” and, as you can see, they’re off to a great start.
Read our special report: Entrepreneurship: The Next Generation
Check out our young entrepreneur profiles: 10 Superstars Under 30
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