As an advisor to startups and an angel investor, I encounter many millennials as entrepreneurs who are leaders and great role models for the rest of us in business. Unfortunately there are still others who have great ideas and passion, but seem to have a very naïve understanding or acceptance of what it takes to get ahead of the crowd and succeed in business.
The reality is that millennials (also known as Gen-Y) are here to stay, and will soon be taking over the majority of our businesses, new and old. There are over 75 million of them in the US, now surpassing the number of Baby Boomers, and nearly two-thirds of them are already in the work place. It is definitely to everyone’s advantage to make them winners, or we will all be the losers.
In the spirit of making us all winners, I offer the following collection of lessons and insights from my own experience and other business executives and investors I know on how to get there as entrepreneurs faster and more effectively:
1. Embrace possible failure as one of the best learning vehicles. Unfortunately, many millennials were raised by well-intentioned parents who never let them fail, and gave them awards for merely showing up. Most great entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell, have talked about their failures as the key to later success.
2. Actively solicit mentoring from people with more experience. Most successful executives are more than willing to share what they have learned, if sought out, asked respectfully, and sense active listening. There is no need to be intimidated by tenure or title. Real experience reveals insights never found in a classroom or abstract logic.
3. Remain intensely curious and seek out different points of view. It is a given that millennials understand the interests of other millennials. Do not always assume that everyone else will like and buy the same things. The best work hard to broaden their knowledge, and are not hesitant to challenge their own understanding of the market.
4. Prove you can do the job before asking for the title. No one is entitled to a better job position or entrepreneur funding, no matter how passionate, educated or articulate. Real leaders are evident by their actions, not by any appointment. I am a strong proponent of letting your results do all the talking. Do not fool yourself with your own over-confidence.
5. Broaden yourself by taking roles outside your comfort zone. Smart entrepreneurs know what they do not know, and work hard to fill the gaps. They are not afraid to ask questions, learn new tools and seek opportunities to gather experience in every business role possible. In a startup, you cannot afford to outsource too many functions.
6. Do not burn your bridges with peers and current employers. Good working relationships are hard to build, and easy to destroy. In a startup, you cannot predict when you will need help from a past connection, advisor or investor, so it pays to maintain old relationships rather than ignore them or lose them through petty disagreements or ego.
7. Integrate social causes into a healthy business model. Many young entrepreneurs are naïve in assuming that doing good for society obviates the need to make money, and will motivate customers to pay premium prices. Smart startups, including Whole Foods, Etsy and Patagonia, have figured out how to do both for long-term impact and success.
8. Learn to balance personal and business priorities. Some aspiring entrepreneurs work themselves to frustration and loss of health, while others prioritize their social life above all else. Neither extreme is conducive to long-term credibility or success. Investors and employees look for leaders who can balance priorities and display a positive outlook.
The good news in the latest survey from Deloitte is that millennials are holding on to their strong values, and continue to be steered by these values at all stages of their careers. The new news is that they are expressing a more positive view of the business role in society and have softened their negative perceptions of business profit motivations and ethics compared to prior surveys.
I love working with millennials as aspiring entrepreneurs, with their unbridled enthusiasm, innovative thinking and fresh perspective on market opportunities. With a few additional insights as outlined here, I believe we can all work together more effectively and look forward to new markets and world changes that we never even dreamed of.
Image credit: CC by 401(K)_2012