by Brian Wong
Being a young entrepreneur in business today is exciting. Youth is your biggest asset; you should rock it to your advantage. But how do you overcome the preconceived notions that come with being a younger contender – like assumptions that you’re inexperienced, naive and in for a rude awakening by the industry?
The answer is simple – you turn them into strengths. Everyone always talks about how retaining youthful characteristics like curiosity and optimism is a great way to succeed. Why can’t those who truly embody those characteristics also reap the rewards?
Why Your Age Is Actually an Asset
As a twenty-something Canadian entrepreneur with a funded startup and past experience at a well-known social news company – who was literally thrown into a pit of extremely successful American entrepreneurs – I’ve had my share of challenges and benefits as the new (and incredibly young-looking) kid on the block. People sometimes view the fact that I’m “too young” or “don’t know enough about life” as a flaw, but I actually believe it’s helped me succeed. When you have no knowledge of the boundaries that exist, you’re able to think bigger; you’re able to be truly and genuinely audacious. That kind of bold, optimistic creativity doesn’t come from being jaded or experienced; it comes from being completely unaware of what lies ahead of you.
Even more so, young people have the fresh ability to learn new skills quickly and retain a ton of information at a time. You can learn a language in a month while you’re younger, but when you’re older, it’s much harder to pick these things up. I try to take full advantage of that, and I’ve seen it happen right in front of me in the tech space. Young people are changing the world through their combination of youth and entrepreneurship. They’re able to establish multi-billion dollar companies because they just don’t see any boundaries, and they can adapt to an evolving landscape quickly.
Young entrepreneurs sometimes tell themselves, “I’m young. No one is going to take me seriously. I don’t have enough money. No one is going to let me do this. I don’t have enough knowledge.” You can solve all those things yourself, without doing anything absurd or fake, like growing facial hair, putting on more makeup or trying to “sound older.” No one ever gets very far by pretending to be something or someone they’re not. The older folks in the room will see right through that, and that’s far worse than being young. Here are three ways to get others to take you seriously – despite your age – while still staying true to yourself:
1. Trust your instincts
Entrepreneurship is inherently instinctual – you’re devoting your life to something unknown and ambiguous. Your decisions and “strategy” are most often a culmination of your basic instincts and parallel, but not directly relevant, data. It’s a very subtle feeling that can be mistaken for many other things – but once you can focus on it, you’ll find your decisions not only for the best, but consistent and wired to your thinking. That intuition, in turn, shapes the vision and culture of the organization you are trying to build. Deviating from your instincts brings unrest not only for you, but among your stakeholders as well.
2. Use your youth
Being young isn’t all about age. It’s about curiosity, capacity, and ultimately, your limits. Test them. There might never be a time in your life where you can stretch your mind and your physical capabilities to their maximum without consequence. As a result, you can leapfrog your success, build amazing products, and live life to its fullest while bringing others along with you.
People often ask me, “How has your youth prevented you from achieving certain things?” I almost always view my youth as an enabler rather than a barrier. Many will assume the latter simply because business/experience/age has gone hand in hand in the last decade. But with the Internet, we are no longer operating on a linear curve of growth of knowledge and numerical age. We are now living in the era of exponential knowledge.
In fact, the younger you are, the more likely you will be viewed as innovative. Don’t conceal or hide your ideas – let them flow and mingle with others, especially during the conception stage. Being young is finally a good thing in the consumer web space. Let’s all make sure that we continue to honor the stage that has been set for us, and continue to innovate incessantly.
3. Generate serendipity
If you create your own luck, there is no sense of reliance. I really, truly, believe in people who understand how to build the right relationships, thrive in the right environments, and believe in their own capacity and propensity to create. The last few years of my life contain a string of events that came from taking a few extra forks along the path of my life – forks where I could have chosen to simply stay still. The doors that open for you may be just the serendipity you need.
For me, being a young entrepreneur is all about asking how I can make things happen by actually executing on my word. Many young entrepreneurs like to talk. I like talking too, but I’d rather show and prove my abilities. The challenges really aren’t challenges at all unless you view them as such. It’s all about perspective.
Brian Wong is the CEO and co-founder of kiip (pronounced “keep”), a category-creating mobile rewards network backed by Relay Ventures, Interpublic Group, Hummer Winblad and others. Kiip has raised over $15.4 million in funding to date and was named one of the world’s 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company in 2013.