CareersBest Practices: Three Steps to Getting Started as a Young, Aspiring Entrepreneur

Technology and entrepreneurship are changing the world at a blistering pace. As startups and large corporations alike continue to have a large amount of funding and talent backing their work, it is easy for young entrepreneurs to lose hope in themselves ever developing something of value, something that’s capable of changing the world.  But at the same time, it is increasingly important for young people to hedge big risks in creating businesses that tackle some...
Steven LiApril 28, 2018

Technology and entrepreneurship are changing the world at a blistering pace. As startups and large corporations alike continue to have a large amount of funding and talent backing their work, it is easy for young entrepreneurs to lose hope in themselves ever developing something of value, something that’s capable of changing the world. 

But at the same time, it is increasingly important for young people to hedge big risks in creating businesses that tackle some of the world’s largest problems. That’s because we’re taught to constantly de-risk our lives by working corporate, even at times against our own will. But we shouldn’t be surprised. 

Though business and technology serve important roles in virtually every industry

Paradoxically, business and technology education is almost non-existent in the United States, though these two fields serve important roles in virtually every industry. The sad reality becomes that most students are unprepared to create and innovate, despite having great ideas that are definitely worthy of pursuing.

Furthermore, students are apt to take low-risk routes through corporate pathways in search for stability, both in living and finances. But we need these risk-taking kids and, in my experience, aren’t developing enough of them.

That’s why if you’re young, hungry, and entrepreneurial, you need to hone your own mind to think in a way that isn’t the almost-autonomous way you’re taught to think in school. You need to take your own steps towards becoming an entrepreneur, not just a “wantrepreneur.”

Here are three steps that will help you build great foundations to get there, derived from personal experiences that have helped me grow.

1. Read. 

For me, reading books in Psychology, Philosophy, and Business was the first crucial step in helping me learn about entrepreneurship, how to create value for others, and why it is important to take calculated risks in business. There have been a few books that have changed my life. 

Peter Thiel’s Zero to One was a book I received for Christmas two years ago, one that uses the metaphor of ‘zero to one’ to elucidate the importance of innovating and being unique. I later read Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Matthew Lieberman’s Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, among others that absolutely changed my perception of business, entrepreneurship, and life.

The temperament required to succeed. The resilience essential to survive in business. The passion critical to growth, developing a great product, healthy enterprise culture, and company to stay.

I’m sure that it’s obvious that reading is helpful in more ways than one, but I don’t want you to just take my word for it. Reading books that talk about experience is remarkable because they give you a great insight into how successful entrepreneurs think on a personal level and how that thinking has allowed them to reach the heights they’ve reached today. Further, they’re great ways to hear the opinions of some of the world’s most prominent industry leaders without having to meet them in-person.

And if you’ve already read these masterpieces, you’ve already taken a big step in honing entrepreneurial thinking.

2. Observe Nuances – and Discover Larger Truisms

Innovation comes from looking at things that are broken, not becoming complacent with all the great things in your life. This is not to say that imperfections are easy to identify; they most definitely aren’t. But complacency is a killer of innovation, and it will definitely end your career as an entrepreneur before you even begin. We’ve absolutely seen this with Yahoo! back when it was the big thing in the early days of competition, when its search engine was dominant over Google and Microsoft’s Bing.

So how do we think differently? Let’s look at something small that may be overlooked. 

It’s easy to think about how great things are; for instance, how great a tool Facebook is in terms of allowing you to communicate with your friend. Though there’s nothing wrong with this kind of thinking in particular, if you’re ever interested in making something novel – using a social media platform as an example –  it’d be a mistake to overlook: “How does Facebook organize what I see on my feed? How does Facebook organize a suggested friends’ list when tagging?” I believe that, through thinking this way, one can really begin to internalize how great products come into prominence.

Honing your entrepreneurial mind does come from thinking about a bigger picture (e.g. business education in K-12 is definitely broken), but when you neglect all the small details that could be comprised in the solution, it’s like having a box that shows what a finished puzzle looks like without including the pieces inside.

3. Start Using Social Media (and your email) to Put Yourself Out There and Reach Amazing People

Social media is a very valuable tool –  as is email. The result of the network effect is all your friends are on it. That’s why it’s so easy to look at it as a way to purely communicate with your friends, with messages, with video chatting, with posting selfies about what you’re up to. But if you’re entrepreneurial and you’re trying to move beyond being a prospective entrepreneur, but you’re still only posting selfies, you need to start considering a different approach, one that doesn’t squander the value of networking on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and in my view, most importantly, LinkedIn.

Remember, though all your friends are on social media, some of the world’s greatest, most successful people are too. Everyone’s just a message away. Show someone that you’re helping to create value. Show someone how they can help. Show them how you can create value for him or her. Be direct and genuine, not roundabout. You’d be surprised at how many great and nice people would be happy to be a part of something you’re doing if you’re all in for a great cause that they align with.

As someone young, you want to cherish more than just your youth – more than all the free time you have and more than all the things that define you as a kid. Your youth is a valuable time to grow, a valuable time where you have literally no downside to explore entrepreneurship. As you age, industry will be less forgiving so it’s important to get started early. And more importantly, getting started has never been so easy with so many books available and so many opportunities on social media. So it’s time to get started.

 

 

Steven Li

Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.

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The Youth Business Collective is a content-based network targeted toward Generation Z business education. The aim is to expand and create opportunities for those with strong interests in business.

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