“You’re how old?” the skeptical, middle-aged CPA asked, leering at my youthful tone from behind his 80’s horn-rimmed glasses.
“I’m 24,” I replied taken aback by his age-based skepticism, “Is that a problem?”
He simply mumbled, “Awfully young to be running a business…”
Young entrepreneurs: bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspiring business men and women dedicated to creating opportunities for both themselves and others.
Are we passionate? Yes.
Are we dedicated? Oh yeah.
Are we slightly crazy? Some may argue… Do we encounter age-specific challenges along our journey towards self-employment? Yes!
Here are four common challenges young entrepreneurs face, and some “from the trench” tips how to overcome them:
Limited network and resources.
I started my first “real” business while I was in grad school. All I had was a Visa card with $400 credit line, and several financially strapped grad school buddies to collaborate with over ice cream and cheap Chinese food. Needless to say my startup resources, in terms of funds and a network, were extremely limited. “Bare bones” capital called for immense creativity and rather staggered growth.
Two years into my career I had the opportunity to launch a tech product in partnership with several older entrepreneurs. During our first round of fundraising, I was amazed at how beneficial my more seasoned partners’ access to established networks were in helping meet our goals.
With years of industry experience, corporate employment, and decade’s worth of networking under their belt, my partners were able to simple send out an email blast to key contacts and receive leads on investors, potential hires, national media opportunities, etc. I soon understood the value of making key connections and leveraging limited resources.
As a young entrepreneur you may need to build on a “shoestring strategy” when it comes to networks and capital, but don’t be discouraged. Many a great businesses were built from similar constraints. Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google the summer of 1998 in a borrowed garage. Walt Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy and the social networking service and news website Reddit was founded in a dorm room. Sure, growing a business with limited connections and resources may not land you immediate headlines, however it’s not impossible. Start where you are with what you have.
Very few people take you seriously.
As the head of your company you shoulder immense responsibility. This is made even more challenging when you are soon “blown-off” by older professionals who doubt the sustainability and credibility of your claims.
For instance, when I first proclaimed myself professionally as a founder, I heard a few criticisms which included: “Haven’t you heard? ‘Entrepreneur’ is a hipster’ term for ‘unemployed’!” or “I bet someone’s bankrolling her business ‘hobby’.” I’ve even heard: “She couldn’t have really started that business by herself; businesses take years to build…”
It can be difficult to defend your business as a young entrepreneur; especially when you find your ambitious pursuits turned into the butt of jokes. While I wish there was a fool-proof strategy to turn naysayers into believers, it may require time and results to be taken seriously in your industry. My advice: Never let ageism discourage your entrepreneurial dreams. Believe in your abilities and your ambitions.