My 5 Startup Tips for Young Entrepreneurs

I love working with young people. I am fortunate that I get to mentor them in both the Microsoft Accelerator program and the U.W. School of business entrepreneurial class. These young students are so full of ideas, passion, and energy, and that recharges me as well.

Unlike older business people who think they would like to try their hand at being an entrepreneur, these young people aren’t yet beaten down with the notion that their idea may never work or that it is too difficult to pull off. Instead, they are focused straight ahead, with dreams as big as the sky. It’s really refreshing to see and that attitude will carry them a long way.

The other day, someone asked me to give them my top five startup tips for young entrepreneurs as they look to start their first business. I gave it some thought, thinking back to my own days when I started my entrepreneurial career what I wished someone would have told me. So, let me list them here for posterity:

  1. Don’t do it! Get a real job! I’m only kidding, but you do need to be prepared to take some big risks when you try to pursue something that doesn’t exist. You will spend many hours by yourself in a very uncertain, or even negative, world with people telling you that your idea is dumb, that you will never make it. 99% of the time you will hear no for an answer. Be sure your skin is thick and your desire is strong.
  2. Being full of optimism and being starry-eyed is great. However, you also need a very determined will and a persistence that won’t quit. Plus, you need to be able to maintain your energy level for a very long time as you assume the roles of marketer, product engineer, sales, finance, and operations. Don’t immediately quit school. Although Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did it, they are outliers. You need the education school will give you.
  3. Choose your partners carefully. Entrepreneurial partners can be a great advantage as you have someone to share the load with, both the financial risk and the workload. Most startups end up with co-founders. However, I would argue a startup partner relationship can be more brutal than marriage. You will spend more time together working on your “baby” and will have differing opinions on how it grows up. That said, your university provides a great networking opportunity to find potential partners and is a good way to develop trusting relationships.
  4. Pursue an idea that there really is a need for. This will likely be something you are a user of where you have discovered something that is missing or not quite optimal. Research the idea and the market thoroughly. Don’t give up if you find someone else who is already doing it. Try to find a way to differentiate.
  5. Don’t fall in love with your startup idea even if you feel strongly that you have something that there is a need for. Your interest in entrepreneurship will be tested. Your ideas will need to change as you learn more. You will make mistakes and even fail, because you can’t raise money, you’re late to the market, you hired the wrong guy, you told the wrong marketing story. It will happen. Leave yourself room to make changes, both emotionally and physically.

Once you get traction, it may be tempting to sell out quickly so you can get on with the next idea. The dream can be alluring. However, as you mature and become more of a manager, you will find you have more patience and capacity to run your business and see your idea really flourish.

I highly recommend the book, The Upstarts. You will learn how AirBnB and Uber have leveraged technology to disrupt entire industries. It will not only inspire you but also shed some light on what it’s really like to run a startup.

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