Matt Rivers became an entrepreneur at age 17 when his favorite surf shop went out of business and he used his dishwashing money to buy it. “At first there was only one T-shirt rack and one shorts rack and when I sold a T-shirt I bought two more.” Today his Cape Cod-based business has one of the most recognized names in east coast surfing thanks to his sponsorship of the Pump House surf team. And of course, Rivers surfs every day.
It used to be that people started out in a large company, and after ten or fifteen years of little fulfillment, they tried entrepreneurship as a way to get out of a bad spot. Today many young people recognize right off the bat that corporate life will not be fulfilling, and according to the Entrepreneur's Organization, the most common age for starting a business has shifted from 35-45 to under 34.
A new view of entrepreneurship has swept through a generation that has seen their parents' loyalty rewarded with layoffs and their parents' pensions destroyed with impunity. The goals and values of today's younger workers make entrepreneurship look more appealing than ever as the bad rap of the twentieth century fades. Consider these comparisons:
Twentieth century: The hours of an entrepreneur are insane and you live at your office.
Millennial: Entrepreneurship provides flexibility necessary for a balanced life. Harris Interactive reports that men in their 20s and early 30s value making time for their family more than they value landing a powerful job. For women, the numbers seeking a career with flexibility are even higher.
Twentieth century: Entrepreneurs need a trust fund or an appetite for living on the edge.
Millennial: Working for yourself is not that risky. Dun & Bradstreet estimate that 76% of new businesses survive more than two years, which is hardly high-risk odds. Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, says, “You can make a nice living,” and besides, “there is no longer such thing as a stable, corporate job.”
Twentieth century: Entrepreneurs are self-aggrandizing. (Think: Colonel Sanders on all the buckets.)
Millennial: Starting a business provides a way to give back to the community. Ask Nate Wolfson, founder of Thrive Networks, what makes him most excited about this IT consulting firm and he says, “We're a two-time winner of the fifty best places to work in Boston.” Ask Rivers how many employees he has grown to and he says, “It's not like that. We're a family here. Each year the store grows, the surf team grows.”
Most of you under the age of 34 have contemplated, at one point or another, the idea of starting your own business. Rich Farrell, founder and CEO of Boston-based technology company FullArmor, says it's easier if you do it earlier. He started his business right out of school, when his parents' basement seemed like reasonable living quarters. “I couldn't do that now. My wife wouldn't live in the basement and my parents wouldn't live with my two-year old 24/7. If I were starting today I'd have to raise money from angels or VCs.”
Do you wonder if you have the entrepreneurial chops to forward? Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, cites three traits that make successful entrepreneurs:
1. Strong knowledge base in the arena you want to enter. Rivers, for example, grew up working at the very store he purchased. On top of that, as an expert surfer he's able to build a surf team that garners national attention for the store.
2. An extensive network both inside and outside of your field. A strong network can give you leads to customers, suppliers, and partners. Networking is something you need to feel comfortable doing every day. Don't underestimate the value of a surf team, but don't overestimate the value of knowledge you cannot leverage at a cocktail party.
3. Commitment. As in Ramen noodles every night. Zacharakis' warns, “you need to be prepared for some lean years during which you draw little or no salary.” Wolfson adds, “When you're an entrepreneur you're never not working. You're always trying to think about what you can do next. I drive my fiancé crazy because I talk about it nonstop.”
Do you think you have what it takes? Not so fast. The first step, for everyone, is finding your passion. According to Zacharakis, “Passion is something you have to look for every day of your life. It’s likely to change over time, but finding your passion is good practice.” It’s the first step to finding a balanced life, and the first step on the path to a committed career.