August 26, 2020 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I began my first successful entrepreneurial project when I was 13, and I’m here to tell you: Being young makes it much harder to start a business. It’s harder to build trust with customers. It’s harder to raise money from investors. And it’s harder to build authority with employees. When I started my restaurant-technology business, people at trade shows would look me up and down, roll their eyes, and walk away — often saying something condescending about my age.
But Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page started their companies at ages 20, 21, and 24 respectively. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are now collectively worth over $2.7 trillion. Each one of them leveraged their youth to their advantage, and turned that weakness into a strength.
So did I.
In fact, I now believe that being a young entrepreneur can be a secret weapon. Here’s why:
1. You aren’t trapped by the existing ways of doing things
Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, said, “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
When you’re young, your perspective on the world is fresh. Whereas others have spent years learning how things are, everything is new to you. You have no choice but to think about things from scratch. You can think more clearly about what’s required to solve problems today, without having the dated reasoning of yesterday, because you haven’t been conditioned to believe things have to be the way they are.
For example, when I decided to help restaurants grow using digital marketing, most people would have done it the “usual” way: building an agency full of consultants and doing everything manually. This is how it had been done since digital marketing became a thing in 1998.
But I wasn’t limited by that way of thinking. I never even considered doing it manually. I went straight to building technology to automate it and optimize it, and the result was exponentially greater outcomes for our customers and higher profits for our business.
2. It’s the best time to take risks
It’s hard to make something from nothing — to build a sustainable business — and it’s really risky.
The best time to do it is when you’re young. Larry Page, who was 24 when he founded the internet giant Google, once said, “I encourage you to take a little more risk in life. If you do it often enough, they will really pay off.”
When you’re a young entrepreneur, you don’t have a family depending on you, or a mortgage to pay. You haven’t gotten used to living a fancy life.
So you have the freedom to take big risks, which may not pay off.
It’s the time in life when you generally have the least to lose. I’m now 20, and the companies I’ve built over the past seven years have collectively reached millions of users. My company was recently valued at over $13,000,000.
But I still drive a modest car, live on groceries, wear cheap clothing, don’t vacation, live as a minimalist, and keep my expenses very low so that I can take bigger risks and compound my capital. The money my competitors are putting into big salaries and fancy lifestyles I invest in building a bigger business.
3. “People don’t take you seriously at first. But when they do, they go overboard.”
That’s a direct quote from Bill Gates, who founded tech giant Microsoft when he was 20 years old. He has since created over 144,000 jobs and created $1.06 trillion in market value.
Gates says that people were skeptical of him at first because of his age, but that when they realized he knew what he was talking about, they became extremely enthusiastic and tried to work with him as much as possible. His age became a part of the story that helped sell customers, because they enjoyed feeling like they were supporting a young prodigy and genius.
I’ve had that same experience. Billion-dollar brands who were skeptical at first became extremely enthusiastic and supportive once they saw that I knew what I was talking about. They liked helping a young person. Top business leaders like Sean Rad (founder of Tinder) and Greg Creed (CEO of Yum Brands) might have ignored me if I was older, but they ended up sharing fantastic advice and becoming mentors.
My age became an advantage because it was a point of differentiation. It reminded them of when they were young and just getting started.
4. You have more time to fail
Success comes with a lot of failures. And failures suck. They can feel like wasted time. But they’re also inevitable when pursuing success. As the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, says, “failure and invention are inseparable twins.”
And it’s best to fail fast when you’re young. I’ve personally experienced some emotional punches in the face. My first project — a Facebook-like network for my sixth-grade class — was shut down by school authorities in a matter of weeks. My second one — a popular Minecraft server network — was threatened by Microsoft. Along the way, people that I thought I could count on let me down. I spent months on initiatives that utterly failed. I flew across the country for trade shows that didn’t get me any customers. I embarrassed myself publicly again and again. Even though each failure fwas frustrating at the time, I was able to grab lessons from each experience and move on, with more time left to do better in the future. I’m glad I did.
So yes, being a young entrepreneur is especially challenging. It’s harder to get others to believe in you, and it’s harder for most young people to believe that they can be successful, since they often see themselves as just kids.
But our youth is also a secret weapon with powerful advantages if you learn to recognize them.
So don’t stall your start and use your age as an excuse. None of the greats do.
Go. Get started. Now is the best time.