Starting a business is a dream of many twenty-somethings at the moment. Ridding themselves of the 40-40-40 trap is appealing – the idea of working forty hours a week for someone else, for forty years, to retire on 40% of the income, has finally hit home and they are desperate to get out. But the world of business is a maze of fear, uncertainty, and red tape implemented by those calling the shots from above. The security of working for someone else might be comfortable and easy, but Millennials have never been in a better position to understand consumers and shape their own success. Forbes estimates that by 2017, Millennials in America alone will be spending $200 billion annually, which equates to $10 trillion in their lifetime. Who better to understand and, ultimately predict, sales trends than the very consumers driving the trends – the largest generation the world has ever seen?
Within the UK we are well-placed to create a generation of entrepreneurs. Only when one starts a company abroad do you realise how simple it is to get going in the UK; I started my first company aged 22 with a £10,000 loan from the bank. Riddled with student debt and fresh out of university, my mother encouraged me to start something new. I had no mortgage, no well-paying job, no flat. When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. Living in Britain, we have it easy: pick a company name, pay £15, complete a few online declarations, and voila, you’re a business owner. No lawyers, no accountants, not even a physical piece of paper to print.
When I started my company I was working for £6 an hour for the local council and couldn’t afford to quit and go full time with my business for 18 months. I would arrive at the office early, work through my lunch break, and by 3pm, I was ready to start working on my passion – my business. My dream was always to make enough to live a sustainable life. My passion was in the betterment of society; you don’t start an education company to make billions or to buy a private jet. But what I soon realised was that others who had started companies that were based solely on earning money had lost focus. Very few people have the stamina to work 100 hours a week for something they’re not whole-heartedly passionate about.
When you ask yourself why you want to start a business, is the answer to make bucket loads of cash or is it that society is lacking and I am the person to create something that the world needs? If it’s the former, you need to ask the question: why should anyone hand over their hard earned cash for a product you don’t even believe in? If you provide something society needs, loves or wants, running a business will be significantly easier, both for your sales and your motivation. Some people, such as Elizabeth Holmes, owner of revolutionary blood-testing company Theranos are fortunate and savvy enough to have both – her product is predicted to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year, and she had been valued at $4.5 billion by her 30th birthday.
Having now started subsequent businesses in South America and in Asia, I have experienced and worked alongside global businesses from other Millennials, some of which were successful, some not so successful. So what sets the two apart? I believe a great deal is determined by how each product is intended to affect society. Whether it’s a publication that gives free advice to mental health sufferers, a logistics company that compares providers or an organisation that helps websites become more robust for small businesses, the successful companies’ goals are usually intended to challenge monopolies and improve society for the consumer. The more famous companies of the moment such as Uber and Google are all about power to the consumer. Whether they’re giving us access to endless information, or making it safer to get home at night, they believe – and, crucially, the public believes – that they are doing something good. The result is they are likeable, trusted, and we hand over our cash to them. Having only been going six years, Uber was last valued at $51 billion.
If your company loses momentum, and you’re tired of the 100 hour week, social betterment is an easier inspiration than an extra zero on the end of your bank balance. So how do you become the next Mark Zuckerberg?
Start with a bank of ideas
Not every idea will work, whether it’s because of market fluctuations, government regulations, or just that some ideas aren’t right for now. Most of us aren’t inventors, and most inventors are not businessmen. For obvious reasons, companies with a strong resilience to competition are less at risk of eroding market forces than innovative companies that have a monopoly on the market. But the truth is that success frequently comes from idea re-inventors – those who find a business not reaching its potential, and start a more profitable and more innovative rival company. This should be particularly appealing to Millennials with little capital behind them, but with a wealth of creativity and drive.
Reinventing the wheel is expensive, time consuming, and requires you to be passionate about something that perhaps doesn’t yet exist. Offering the public a product they already know, but with enhanced service, quality or pricing is a surer way to start in the competitive business world. Once your foot is in the door, you’ll be able to adjust and evolve your idea to ensure that it becomes unique and a market leader. Just because your company might not start as unique, doesn’t mean it can’t become unique. Apple didn’t invent the telephone, yet they have managed to carve out a product that users loyally queue up for days to get their hands on.
Don’t beat about the bush – get started
Whether it’s after work, on weekends, or during your holiday time, there is only so far that planning can get you; at some stage, you’ll need to take the leap of faith and begin. No business can be predicted – our freedom and choices are what make entrepreneurial successes and failures so interesting. Once you have your concept, the first challenge will begin with how you react to the ever-changing climates, whether economic, social or political. Adapting with perseverance is what sets the successful apart from the unsuccessful. Planning the perfect business for two years might mean the markets have entirely changed by the time you get going. See what sells, what’s trending, and adjust accordingly. Crucially, put yourself out there. Embrace social media, read widely, and seek out other entrepreneurs. I love meeting new entrepreneurs and business owners as I learn from them, even the ones newer to the game than me. Become a sponge, expand and adjust your thinking to gain different perspectives from those who have been there before. See every meeting as an opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s at the pub, on a plane, or at a party.
Be prepared to move out of your comfort zone
Thirdly – and this is what most people find trickiest – prepare to go from being a specialist for your current employer to a jack-of-all-trades. Unless you have significant financial backing behind you, you likely won’t be able to afford a state-of-the-art office with a PR team, a HR team, strategists and web designers. If you can afford their living wage, you might be able to get an intern to help, but if not, for the first part at least, it’ll just be you. The freedom of being able to make your own decisions and having variety in your day to day tasks is what being truly entrepreneurial is all about.
It means you’ll be busy, but it also means that as your company grows and you can start to afford employing staff, you’ll understand the individual roles of each employee. Long term, it will make you a much more personable, empathetic, and subsequently, successful employer. There’s nothing worse than being forced to take orders from a boss who has no idea what you do or what your value is. At the start, you will need to work out your priorities. Is your budget best spent outsourcing all web design to a flashy designer, or would you be better spending a few weekends getting to grips with a free wix.com site and spending the money on promoting and marketing the site? Each company is different. You need to work out what’s right for you depending on your personal and professional strengths.
There is no set rule to how each business works. Some are successful because of their eccentric and outlandish CEOs, while others like to stick with traditional and conservative methods. Just as some companies place emphasis on the product or content, others place theirs on the brand as a whole, or on one-to-one service. No company gets everything right all the time, and each company needs to find its niche in the market. However, I believe one thing to be true of every business: no one will care about your company like you do.
You can employ the brightest and most hardworking people on the planet, but the reality of effective account management always stops with the shareholders – with those earning the profit – and in the case of a small business, with you, the owner. Expect to be grinding for the long haul; this isn’t the national lottery, it’s hard work, it’s dedication, but it’s rewarding and self-fulfilling. Millennials have the advantage of technology, of education and of purchasing power. They have never been in a better position to jump in and try something new. As Mark Zuckerberg himself believes, “In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”