More and more nowadays, young people are turning to entrepreneurship as their career, many starting businesses while in university or just after. Although often admired by peers, these young entrepreneurs are challenged by counterparts and even clients who are nervous about giving their money to a 20-year-old with little experience. Below are some tips taken from my own life and experiences as a young entrepreneur. I did not have a guide, but I am hoping to share my knowledge with you and help mentor you in your endeavors. As always, remember to never give up!
I started my very very first business many years back in Iran while I was around 14 to sell the socks to different clothes shops. I visited at least 40 shops before I got my first clients. When they found out how young I was, how inexperienced I was, they were really reluctant to buy. Rather than get discouraged, however, I did land a couple of clients and focused on the results I achieved with those individuals. Credibility issues went away as those shop owners started to increase revenue and spread the news among their colleagues. “If you can do something well for people, they really don’t care how young you are.”
My secret was to focus my energy on my clients’ needs, detracting from my own inexperience. Whenever I talked about myself, the client laughed a lot, because I didn’t have much to say. I was a 14-15-year-old kid in school without any experience. But when I would ask them what is are your kids good at, what are they having trouble with, the client would open up. Turning the sales conversation away from yourself and focusing instead on asking the client questions about their needs and telling them your game plan for solving their problems is the way to successfully bypass your inexperience.
When I founded my first business in Switzerland at 23, making clients see past the distraction of my young age meant dressing in business attire and conducting myself with maturity in meetings to help come off not only as mature beyond my years, but also capable. First impressions are really important; especially as a young entrepreneur with no track record.
One way to gain experience rapidly as an entrepreneur is to surround yourself with older individuals who have already experienced success. At my very first venture in Geneva, I created a board of advisors early on and stacked it with some respected names in the financial and local market. They gave me credibility, especially as I started to raise capital; they also provided incredible advice, input and perspective on challenges I faced as a growing small company.
Although some young entrepreneurs may face occasional disrespect and may be tempted to lie about their age in order to appear more competent, in some cases, their youth can give them a huge advantage. For me, my youthfulness allowed me to shine when it came to pointing out how stagnant things were in my industry and showing the excitement fresh, young blood with new ideas would bring to the table. My age also proved to be an advantage because it allowed me to connect with my target audience – genius students.
People liked that I was young- I was passionate and enthusiastic. What I thought would be my biggest obstacle turned into my biggest strength, proving you don’t have to hide your youth to be entrepreneur.