Youth without experience in an entrepreneurial venture can be a dangerous mix. Inexperienced business operators bring energy, optimism and an innovative spirit that has not been dulled with too much belief in the foregone business conclusion, but they also move without thinking or planning, lack prudence and take unnecessary risks. Experienced business owners know the importance of tempering enthusiasm with caution and understanding the difference between personal limitations and actual limitations, whether they are legal or financial. Combining these traits is the key to getting a startup off the ground and achieving success. For more on this continue reading the following article from The Street.
I was 14 years old when I was introduced to the world of the entrepreneur. I worked for my dad helping with land surveying — carrying equipment, taking notes and doing whatever was needed. I also started working in the summer for one of my dad’s best friends as an office clerk, filing, making phone calls and doing whatever else needed to be done in his office.
The advantage I had as a 14-year-old in the adult world is that I didn’t know that there were "supposed to be" ways of doing things. If something needed doing and I had a better way of doing it, I just did it. If something seemed pointless, wasteful or inefficient, I changed it. If I didn’t understand why something was being done, I asked. And asked. And asked again. If it didn’t make sense, yes, big surprise, I did it my way. The advantage of being the daughter of a friend was that my boss wasn’t going to yell at me, fire me or otherwise constrain me to the rules the "adults" had. That freedom made a huge difference in what I would get to do and what I got done.
It also made a big difference in the friend’s business. Challenging the "supposed to" and making the boss take the time to explain made him see new ways of doing things and saving money. As a self-taught, school-of-life entrepreneur, he learned from his father, and if it wasn’t obviously broken he didn’t look to fix things.
From the small to the Fortune 500, I experienced what youth brings to business — that nothing is impossible — and later learned what experience brings: the tempering of ideas, along with strategy and discipline. Sometimes the tempering was a heavy hammer striking the steel of an idea to hone it, strengthen it and make it work. At other times it was the restraining hand to realize that sometimes blowing everything up to start over wasn’t practical (even if it would have resulted in a better answer).
Young entrepreneurs bring to any opportunity, idea or business:
- No barriers or assumptions: The sky is the limit.
- Devotion to the goal is to be achieved, even if it takes living in a parents’ basement or sleeping on your aunt’s couch until they’re 30!
- Dorm rooms are viable office space.
- The innate knowledge that doing is the first strategic step, that planning has its place but is not the endgame.
- The energy to move first, move fast and move on!
Balanced against these items are the risks that result from "not knowing what you don’t know." These include:
- Losing your intellectual property or undervaluing it because you’re not informed on what others involved are doing.
- Disregarding the rules that are regulations — violating others’ intellectual property rights or failing to be first to file or get to market.
- Sharing too much about what you are doing and letting the competition get in front of you.
- Underestimating the importance of email, instant messages and social media exposure of the good, bad and ugly of your internal business communications.
- Undervaluing the "gray hair" in the room. Some things come with experience, and lessons learned by others can apply to you, whether it’s an experience from 1970 or last year. Everything under the sun is not new — just new to some.
- Planning is necessary to align the organization.
- Accounting is not just math.
- Being "good with people" does not qualify you to manage human resources and employee relations, legalities and compliance.
The "ideal" entrepreneur possesses the exuberance of the young entrepreneur and the wisdom of knowing that the experience of others can keep you from making big (and costly) mistakes. You do not have to accept or act on the advice of your elders in business, but stopping to consider the perspective gained from experiences of a lifetime can only strengthen your abilities and solutions.
This article was republished with permission from The Street.