When I founded my first company I didn’t have time to find someone to date, but I knew that I wanted to get married. So I followed all the advice I had read about how you should tell people what you want in order to get what you want. I started telling everyone that I wanted to get married, and a lot of people set me up on dates.

But things did not go well. Almost every guy I went out with ended up wanting to do business with me. (Yes, I went into business with one of them.) And often when I met with an investor about the next round of funding for my company, our meeting (that was invariably at some swanky restaurant he owned) turned into a date by the end of the evening.

I started questioning the idea that I should be so frank about looking to get married. Life is one big negotiating opportunity, and I saw I was not doing well. Also, I noticed that men don’t generally ask for what they want. The classic example: They ask you out to lunch when what they really want is sex.

There is so much written about how women are not as good at negotiating as men are. Lots of studies show that women don’t even start negotiating — nine times out of ten, men will ask and women won’t. And when women do negotiate, they don’t get what they want as often as men do.

There is no solid research to tell us the why behind the poor negotiations. Most people who toss around ideas about why women don’t ask, toss around some version of the idea that women don’t like conflict: Women like to collaborate; women are caretakers.

I don’t believe this, because in a relationship, women are typically more comfortable with conflict than men are. In fact, women are more likely than men to bring up conflict in a relationship. And men are more likely to withdraw from conflict. (This last link is so fun. It’s dating tips for guys from AskMen.com – a site that is always right on target about how women think.)

Anyway, I think the reason women do poorly in negotiations is that women assume you should ask for what you want, but men know that’s not how the game is played. Men know that you need to be aware of what you want, but that’s not necessarily what you ask for.

So then it makes sense that men negotiate more than women because women are facing conflict head-on and men are not. It’s much easier to approach someone you are not going to instigate conflict with. So negotiations work best when you don’t assume you need to ask for exactly what you want.

Think of the sex example: If a guy approaches you for sex, you hang up on him. If he approaches you for lunch, you think he’s very sweet. And then later you have sex.

Salary is another situation where you are better off not asking for what you want. In salary negotiations, you always want to wait until the other person gives the number. Even though you know what you want, if you say the first number, your counterpart will tell you it is higher than he or she was planning to pay, no matter what the number is.

When someone asks how much money you want, a way to get out asking directly for the very high salary you really want is to say things like, “I want to consider the whole package not just salary” or “I want to make sure we are a good match before we talk about salary.” This forces the other person to give a number first, and then you can say you want more.

My friend Chris Yeh gave me another good example of when you should not ask for what you want: Founding a company. He said if you want advice, ask for money, and if you want money, ask for advice. For those of you who have dealt with investors, you’ll recognize that this is exactly how the world of startups works.

And based on my own experience of trying to date while running a startup, I think this might be true too: If you want to go into business with someone, ask them on a date. And if you want to date someone, go into business with them.

One of the most popular goals among young people is to have their own company. This doesn’t mean people want to necessarily build the next Google or Facebook.

For many students this means smaller companies where you can have fun with friends while you think of cool ideas and then enjoy the steep learning curve of implementing those ideas. The most important aspects of a job for young people are flexibility and personal growth. And no job gets you that as effectively as starting your own company.

Part of starting a company is learning how to think and problem solve, and a classic college education teaches you that. But typically, colleges have prepared students to climb a corporate ladder upon graduation. And today we don’t even pretend that 40-year ladder climbs are an option.

Corporate jobs are more short-term, and sporadic— maybe something to do in between starting one’s own companies. But what can one do in college to pave the way for a career that includes entrepreneurship?

First, try to hang out with other students who have businesses, or ideas for businesses. At any given college, there is a group of students either thinking hard about entrepreneurship, or doing it. Hang around these people because they’ll teach you how to bounce ideas.

Entrepreneurs don’t have just one good idea. They have a million, and they test the ideas out on friends all the time, learning how to hone an idea and think critically until they find one that works.

The best way to come up with an idea is to try to solve problems, says Greg Boesel.

“I constantly find myself saying; there’s gotta be a better way to do this.” Then, he advises, if you think you have a better way, do 20 hours of market research to see if someone else has already tried that way.

Boesel’s current company, Swaptree, is an example of this process in action. He got the idea from a friend who returned from a visit with his mom with 16 used books he didn’t want. They were good books, but he didn’t know what to do with them. Swaptree is a company that tells you what people are willing to trade you to get the book, CD, or DVD that you don’t want.

If you don’t have an idea and you need to do something, go to a start-up to get yourself thinking in new directions.

James Ngai is a student at MIT, and he worked at a Boston music start-up while he had a full course load. Ngai is well aware that there are no long-term secure jobs in the workforce, so flexibility and broad skills are the key to success.

“Students want an open path career,” he says, “and getting start-up experience is a great way to ensure this.”

A year after getting his feet wet in someone else’s start-up, Ngai launched his own company, Campus Research and Recruiting, which helps companies understand why their recruiting practices fail or succeed and how they can be more effective.

How do you find one of those work experiences that give you a jump start in starting a company of your own? Use the career center. “This is a totally underused resource,” according to Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting from College to Career. “There’s a perception that career services only helps you for the companies that recruit, but career services have connections to tons of industries.”

And it’s not just about the networking. “It’s free career coaching,” says Pollak. And one of the keys to entrepreneurship is knowing your own strengths and how to leverage them.

Also, if you have your heart set on a start-up of your own, the best route might be the anti-start-up summer job. That is, something in staid, ladder-climbing industries like investment banking or consulting whose business models include spending tons of money on training employees. You don’t need to enter these industries after doing the summer program, and the education will serve you well when you finally think of a company you want to start.

The most important advice is probably to stay confident that things will work out for you. Just because you can’t start a company immediately doesn’t mean you won’t get a really fun job immediately. Remember that this is a very good job market for young people. In the book Recruit or Die, Chris Resto, internship director at MIT, spends nearly 300 pages describing to companies how they can attract top talent.

The recurring theme of the book is that young people have lots of choices and multiple offers, and only the companies that are smartest about what young people want will get them. What does this tell you, the candidate? That you should aim for a job that meets your needs.

What else does it tell you? That the most important thing to do in college is begin to understand what your needs are. Otherwise, you have no idea what you’re hunting for.

By Ryan Healy — Soaring education, housing and health care costs in recent years have made simply staying afloat in a large metropolis next to impossible without a huge salary and benefits package.

These rising costs are causing the well educated to “sell their souls” to law firms, investment banks, and management consulting firms to maintain the upper middle class life most of our parents provided for us, According to social critic Daniel Brook, whose debut book is The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner Take-All America.

I know what you’re thinking: Those college grads making $80,000 bonuses on Wall Street do not deserve any sympathy; They made a choice to live in the most expensive city in the country and they made a choice to work like slaves for a few years until they can retire to their yachts and country clubs.

But if you really look into the situation, Brook has a point. Wall Street I-bankers are certainly earning more than enough to simply “stay afloat,” but the rest of us are selling out for the sole reason of living in a “cool” city.

Junior year of college, I realized my passion was to become an entrepreneur. It didn’t matter. I sold out. I moved to the big city with the enormous rent payments. I took the decent paying job to support my living and partying expenses. Most people I know did the same. Some are content, some are looking for a way out, some are happy.

Some of us grew up with dreams of becoming artists, musicians or non profit executives. Regardless of the dream, most of us settled for the same thing; a decent paying job in an overpriced city. What I now realize from first hand experience is unless you’re an investment banker with semi-realistic plans of retiring at 35 with a couple million; the big city is overrated.

Is it really imperative to live on New York’s Upper East Side, San Francisco’s Marina or Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle? Why not say “screw you” to the boring job in New York and take the exciting job in Cincinnati, Ohio?

My friends from college, Matt, Cole and Adam, knew from day one they didn’t want to work for a corporation. They came up with an idea, raised some money and toured the country to find the best place for their first in a chain of restaurants called Fat Sandwich Co.

They opened in Norman, Oklahoma. All three are from the Philadelphia/New Jersey
area and all of our friends told them they would hate living in Oklahoma. Last
week Cole told me that none of them even want to move back to the east coast.

From the outside, cities like Cincinnati, Ohio and Norman, Oklahoma aren’t nearly as exciting or trendy as New York or San Francisco. According to Brook, and I completely agree, chances are we will just be able to “stay afloat” either way. Since that is the case, I will not hesitate to choosethe fulfilling, under paying job in a small city rather than grind it out during the week to party until 4a.m. on Friday with the rest of the yuppies in the big city.

My lease is up in two months and it’s finally time to pursue my passion. I want a relatively inexpensive city with good entrepreneurial opportunities. I no longer care about trendy bars; I have no desire to eat at expensive restaurants. Some things are more important. It’s time for me to make a decision, because there is no reason to be bound by geography or the “coolness” factor of a city.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

By Ryan Healy – According to adults the world works in a centralized, hierarchical structure and that’s the way it will always be. They say young people will eventually adapt and accept things for how they are, despite the fact that decentralized websites and organizations have defined our childhood and early adult years.

I don’t buy it. We grew up with open source websites like Napster and Kazaa. Now we use Wikipedia and Craigslist daily. All of these sites have one thing in common; users control them. I don’t need permission to post an apartment for rent on Craigslist and I can make up any word I want and create a definition in Wikipedia.

Now there is undeniable proof that Gen-Y is bringing decentralized organizations mainstream…

After turning down $1 billion, 23 year-old Mark Zuckerberg took the user controlled Facebook to a whole new level by allowing everyone to create applications without pre-approval. If you really think about it, Facebook allows anyone to work for them without the hassle of reporting up the ladder, attending pointless meetings or even leaving their living rooms. With a good idea, a little programming knowledge and a small amount of money, anyone can make money through Facebook while simultaneously increasing the company’s bottom line.

Facebook’s revolutionary new concept is just a glimpse into the all inclusive, non-hierarchical, “out of the box” future that generation-Y will continue to invent and embrace. My friend and web designer, Devin Reams reaffirmed this thought when he told me about his experience at Startup Weekend.

The event began on a Friday, when 70 people showed up above a bike shop in Boulder, CO to vote on their favorite previously submitted business ideas. They decided to create a business that allowed people to take quick polls of their friends’ opinions.

“We broke into groups based on ‘expertise’: business development, PR/marketing, user experience, design, front end development, back end development, and legal. The groups allowed for quick action,” says Devin. “We had seven-minute update meetings every hour and the each hour flew by. On Sunday night we had a business model, website, and marketing campaigns ready to go for a product launch.”

The company was successfully started but no product had launched to the public. “This was frustrating,” says Devin, “since the world was every move on live video from Ustream. But, the project has continued beyond the weekend and a launch is expected next week. We’ve been playing with it internally and it’s amazing what a decentralized group can accomplish.”

After this amazing weekend, the group ended up with a “fast polling” website called Vosnap. The site allows you to send out a quick poll to friends via email or text messaging. For example, if a bunch of friends want to meet up for lunch, but all work in different places, they can send out a poll and meet at the restaurant that receives the most votes. Sounds pretty cool to me!

Sure, Andrew Hyde is technically the “CEO,” but he doesn’t have to approve everything, and the majority can vote him out at any time. This is strangely similar to Wikipedia’s structure of open source use based on a community of trust, rather than checks and balances. Can you imagine a typical company trying to agree on a product, design a website, create marketing campaigns, and draft contracts and legal arrangements in three days? It would take me three weeks to jump through the bureaucratic hoops just to pitch an idea to the person in charge. On a weekend; forget about it.

When you put a group of talented, motivated young people together for three days without bosses, titles or egos, things seem to magically run very smoothly. Watching Facebook evolve and hearing stories like Devin’s excite me. They are proof that young people are not only motivated and capable of working together, but they show that we don’t have to adapt to the status quo of the corporate world to succeed. Hopefully big business starts taking a few lessons from these progressive young leaders.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the braided career. The idea is that in order to create stability in a world where career change is frequent and job security is non-existent, you need to be managing three things at all times: your personal life, what you are doing for work now, and what you might want to do next. These things are intertwined, and make for an interesting, stable, but complicated life. If you consciously braid then you keep things in order.

But how do you translate that to a business card? What do you call yourself?

The answer is that your business card should directly reflect the story you are telling about yourself in the moment. And in fact, the issue of what to put on your business card is actually a very fundamental question.

The best way to get a clear sense of who you are is not to philosophize with your head in the clouds, but rather, to describe yourself in sentences. Sometimes this means writing a lot, sometimes this means talking a lot. This is why keeping a diary keeps some people feeling centered and talk therapy keeps other people centered. It’s also why when you are working on your elevator pitch about yourself, you get better and better with practice, because you understand yourself better each time you talk about yourself.

When you meet someone new, and they ask you “what do you do?” Blogger Pam Slim gives a great answer: She says to answer what you want to be doing. That is, you are under no obligation to tell people your day job. And you don’t need to confess that you want to be a designer but the only thing you’ve designed is the web page that says you’re a designer. Everyone starts somewhere. Bill Gates sold his first computer before he had manufactured one. He did that by saying that he does it and then someone hired him to do it. This is fair play – even expected play – in business.

So you need a business card that says what you want to be doing, if you are ready to start doing it. If you are doing two things and they are related, like designer and illustrator, you can put a slash on the card. If you are doing things that are unrelated, like designer and travel agent, then have two separate cards. This way, when someone is going on a trip, you can give them the travel agent card. If designer is also on the card then it looks like you are less focused on travel, whether or not it’s true, so leave it off. In this sense the card is like a resume – it’s not your life story; just put on the card what you want to get hired to do.

You can do fine with a very basic business card, and there are plenty of places to order these online. But here is a site with really incredible business cards, that I spent way too much time looking at. (Thanks, Marina.) But before you go there, a word of caution: The wrong font can ruin your image in one second. So don’t get fancy unless you know how.

And hey, if you still have a corporate day job as well, don’t forget to carry around cards for that, too – until you can quit.

Companies are having a hard time recruiting and retaining young talent, and as a result are accommodating what would have once been considered extreme demands. “The scales have tipped in favor of knowledge workers, creating a seller’s market for the next 5 to 10 years,” writes to Stan Smith, National Director of Next Generation Initiatives at Deloitte.

Here are some reasons why so many younger workers have gained the advantage when it comes to negotiating the terms of a new job.

The workforce is shrinking.
The Department of Labor reports that from 2000 to 2010 there will be a 30 percent decrease of workers in their 30s and 40s. In addition, many Generation X parents are choosing to leave the workforce or cut back on hours in order to be home with their children. This trend is so pronounced that it’s creating a shortage of managers already.

Many young people want their own businesses.
The barriers to starting an Internet business are low. Viral marketing via a personal e-mail list and a few key mentions on prominent blogs can potentially catapult a good idea into a successful business. Since young people can effectively fund their own companies this way, many do not want to pay their dues by working for someone else and learning the ropes. The flexibility of owning a company is not only appealing, but also a way to avoid menial labor at the bottom of the corporate ladder. In fact, many young people are choosing the excitement of entrepreneurship over the stability of a good salary.

If entrepreneurship is the first choice, a corporate job is a backup plan. Matt Humphrey, 20, and three friends just founded SlapVid, a company that cuts the cost of providing video content online. Humphrey thinks of the MBA program he is now in as sort of a backup plan in case SlapVid does not take off at the end of the summer. And in the event that he does not have another idea for a company before he graduates, getting a job at someone else’s company is a second-level backup plan.

Parents are a safety net.
More than 50 percent of college graduates will move back home with their parents this summer. And most parents will like it. It used to be that returning home after college was seen as a sign of failure. Today, however, economists and sociologists see such homecomings as a smart response to exorbitant housing prices in big cities, and entry-level wages that do not cover living expenses.

Three out of four of the founders of SlapVid are getting financial help from their parents. And Humphrey’s parents are typical in their enthusiasm for their child’s adventure, and the tight relationship they share. “They know they might have to support me for longer than they planned for,” Humphrey said. “They’re definitely up for that. If I want to do something really, really cool, they’ll support me all the way. They call me every day to see how I’m doing.”

With such parental support, there is no need for a company to play the parenting role, which is what happened when baby boomers entered the workforce. And if there is no paternalism in corporate life, it becomes a scramble to figure out what businesses can leverage to scoop up young employees.

The intimidation factor is diminished.
“People going to college today are working harder than I ever did in school,” says Bill MacGowan, chief human resources officer of Sun Microsystems. “These kids will find work easier than I did.” In return for their effort, they expect to be well compensated by employers. As consummate consumers, they use technology to customize the way they view information, and they expect the same kind of customization when it comes to selecting jobs. They negotiate for vacation time, mentoring and training, flexible schedules, and even tricked-out laptops.

And when it comes to negotiating, young people assume the adults at the office are on their side. Generation Y has been raised by parents who often acted more like friends and mentors. In fact, often a wide community was involved in helping a Generation Y child succeed — including teachers, coaches, and private tutors. As a result, young people bring unprecedented confidence to the negotiating table. Some even have their parents in the room for added help, and many respected companies are willing to engage parents in the hiring process if that’s what the candidate wants.

Indeed, the scales have tipped and young people are in charge. For people who have been in the workforce for a long time and expected to be in charge, the new reality is difficult to accept. But it’s possible all employees will benefit from some of the changes. After all, demands such as more flexible schedules, are appealing to all employees, regardless of age.

By Ryan Healy – Vacation days are a benefit. We are allowed 10 or 15 days of vacation per year so we can completely relax and forget about work. I have full intentions of forgetting about my job for the six days I am in California. I might check my e-mail once or twice, and I am available by cell phone, but unless there is an extreme emergency I have no plans of working. Vacation is great, I’m relaxed, I’m enjoying my family, and I don’t have to deal with that pesky thing called work.

However, right now I am sitting in an ice cream shop in Napa Valley, California. I am using six of my precious vacation days. And what do you know? I am writing a column. I do not separate writing, networking or designing my website from working. I am doing all of this for my career, and therefore it is all considered work. However, since landing in Oakland four days ago, I have spent at least one to two hours a day doing some type of work. In fact, my partner Ryan Paugh and I actually launched the brand new version of Employee Evolution. The funny thing is, I am completely, 100% relaxed and I wouldn’t want my vacation to be any other way.

My brother, Dan, runs SloopyMenus.com, an online food ordering business at Ohio State University. As I write this, he is sitting directly across from me on his laptop emailing restaurant and bar owners, setting up meetings to talk about advertising and tracking his website statistics for use in his sales pitches. He has already taken three or four business calls and has spoken with his partner once a day. He also wouldn’t have it any other way.

Does this mean that we are not actually on vacation? Or does this mean that his business and my website aren’t actually work?

The way I look at it, they are both definitely considered work, and we are both definitely on vacation. Spending an hour or two per day doing a little work on vacation is just fine in my book. I completely understand why people want to escape their jobs and not even worry about it on vacation. However, if you need to run and hide for a week at a time, it can only mean one of two things. You either dislike your job or you work way too hard.

The problem with having an arbitrary ten or fifteen days of vacation where you can escape from your cubicle is that it implies we need to completely escape to stay sane. I don’t know about you guys, but if I need to pretend that work doesn’t exist when I am on vacation, then I am in the wrong line of work.

The Motley Fool has created a solution to this whole problem. Employees at “the fool” do not have any vacation days, but they certainly take vacations like the rest of us. There should be no such thing as vacation days. By telling employees they are allowed fifteen days off from work a year, you are in effect telling them that they will need to escape the daily grind. With new technologies and telecommuting being more and more common, “vacation days” will ultimately be a thing of the past. But I can guarantee you; I will still take plenty of vacations

Obviously, companies like the Motley Fool must put an extraordinary amount of trust in their employees, but we are all adults. How many grown people do you know who would completely blow off a deliverable because they want to go on vacation and ignore work for a few days? If employees feel trusted, they will trust the company which will in turn increase worker morale and output. It’s a win-win situation.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

By Ryan Healy – I have read that my generation grew up with constant change and amazing new technologies like cell phones and the Internet which caused us to not appreciate patience and experience.

I don’t buy that.

Surely there are a variety of social and cultural factors influencing impatience, but as far as I’m concerned, the big reason for all this impatience is one thing: family.

My family is the most important part of my life. My brother is my best friend. My parents are wonderful, caring people who raised me right and spent lots of time with me. When I have my own family, I will spend my time on family outings, vacations, baseball practices, piano lessons and everything else that comes with being a responsible father. These things will take a backseat to nothing, including work.

I also have a burning desire to be wildly successful in the business world. Typically, to be a huge success you must put more than eighty hours a week into your job. Balancing that with piano practice on Tuesday, a baseball game on Wednesday a dance recital on Friday, and family dinners nearly every night is just not practical.

Luckily, I am 23 years old and most likely won’t have this family until at least my mid thirties. If you do the math this leaves me with about a decade to become a successful business person. Once the wife and kids come, the career must take a backseat. This is why I’m so impatient!

The chances of me making millions of dollars in the next decade are slim; I’m not naïve enough to think it’s easy. However, this does not mean I won’t give it my best shot. For the next ten years I am going to be as impatient as I can possibly be, because maybe, just maybe, I will become the wildly successful business man that I always knew I could be.

Slowly climbing the corporate ladder is actually counter-intuitive to this type of thinking. You start young at work, no spouse, no kids and not much responsibility outside of work. Slowly you get a new title, and with it, more hours. Then you get married and have two paychecks rolling in. Then you become a VP with more responsibility and of course, more hours. After a few years of marriage, you have a kid, you get a promotion, and you work more hours. All of a sudden, your kids are on their own and you were so damn busy working for the past twenty years that you can’t even believe where the time went.

Well, at least you get that great retirement in Florida, if you make it to 65….

Luckily, my father worked for a non-profit and made his schedule fit around my basketball games and my brother’s golf matches. Despite her workload, my mother always made time for us as well. They put family before work because they were responsible parents. I will do the same. However, I will do whatever it takes to become successful before that time comes.

Best case scenario is I start some type of business and build it for ten years. When it’s time for work to take a backseat to family, I will be able to hand over the reins to my impatient apprentice and I will only work when I need to. Worst case scenario is I try to start a business, it doesn’t work out, and I either go back and get a job that allows me plenty of family time and pays enough for me to support them or I start some type of safe business that will not consume my life.

Sure there are plenty of twists and turns my life will take along the way, but I know that nothing is more important then family and working your way up so you can have tons of responsibility and no time when your kids are growing up is idiotic. I would much rather be impatient now and think of my family years as a mini retirement, than miss my children’s childhood chasing an outdated dream of retiring in Florida. There is no better time to be a success than the present, waiting around to gain “experience” is a waste of time. Impatience is an asset.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

By Ryan Healy — If there is an overarching impact my generation is already having on the corporate world, it is entrepreneurship. Roughly 80% of my friends and acquaintances plan to start their own business at some point. Both males and females, college grads and current students, everyone wants to run their own business, and many of us will.

However, it is not practical to assume that everyone will. In fact, I would bet that less than half of the aforementioned people will take the plunge into entrepreneurship. The economy needs both entrepreneurs and employees to run successfully and let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for the risky, constantly changing life of an entrepreneur.

That said, I don’t think my friends will land at large companies, either. They’ll go to smaller ones. Here are three reasons why large companies will have an increasingly difficult time trying to recruit and retain their young talent.

1. Following the crowd is boring.
To me, there is something very unsatisfying about being one of many. This does not mean that I want to rebel or move to a remote village and drop out of society. This means that I know I am an individual and I know I can achieve what I set my mind to. Because of this, following the crowd and working in a large organization with hundreds or thousands of people doing the same tasks is very disheartening.

Ben Casnocha, the best example of a young entrepreneur I can think of, sums it up best in his book, My Start Up Life. He says, “I don’t want to be normal, I want to be something else.” Simple, straight forward and to the point, this quote sums up how young, ambitious people think. These days, it’s all about going above and beyond “the crowd.” And where do you follow the crowd more than in a massive organization?

2. Bureaucracy is a waste of time.
During one of my far-too-common discussions with a friend about paychecks, raises and the corporate BS involved with them, my friend said, “I’m going to start looking for another job that pays more money. I can’t ask for a raise –I don’t even know who to ask!”

If you have a boss who reports to a boss, who reports to another boss etc. it is going to take weeks or months to get your request to the right people. And who exactly are these right people anyway? Many people I know have multiple supervisors. Which one do you ask?

I guess my friend could go to the HR department with the request, but the chances of the HR folks knowing his job responsibilities or knowing which manager to contact about the request are slim. When HR finally figures all of this out, my friend would have missed out on three or four paychecks that could have been paid at the higher rate.

So it’s not hard to understand why he is about to begin interviewing with other, smaller companies.

3. I can be a CEO and an intern at the same time.
Because of the hierarchical structures that nearly all organizations adhere to, big decisions and big-picture work happen at the top of the food chain. Smaller organizations can be much less rigid and more lenient then large organizations because of the high visibility across the organization. Even if a young person isn’t able to make the huge decision, at least they know the person who did. And they can decide if they trust the decision-maker to lead the company in the right direction.

It’s ironic that I am barely a step above an intern at my corporate job, but one could argue that I am the CEO of Employee Evolution. During the day I often perform low-level intern-type tasks, but at night I have meetings with entrepreneurs and authors, record podcasts for the Wall Street Journal and discuss my vision for the future of Employee Evolution with my web designer. It’s not hard to see why 9 to 5 at a big company probably isn’t the quickest way to the top.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

At some point, you’ve probably thought about starting your own company. Maybe you want to get rich and famous from it, but most likely you just want to have fun, learn a lot, and try something new. The trick is getting the guts to do it.
Whatever you want to gain from starting a business, there’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. It’s easier than ever to get things going quickly and inexpensively. And today’s opportunities for entrepreneurship allow you to maintain a sense of stability in your personal life while trying out some of your business ideas.

Here are five ideas to give you the courage to get started now.

1. Don’t wait to start until you’re sure you’ll succeed.
Assured success never happens. For instance, Guy Kawasaki, who was known for evangelizing the Apple brand before starting his own firm, Garage Technology Ventures, launched his own startup, Truemors, this month. It’s a site that allows people to post rumors they’ve heard and then let others vote on the rumors for popularity ranking.

When asked how he knew Truemors would work, Kawasaki said that he didn’t. “You don’t get over the idea that it might be a flop. Every startup faces these feelings. It’s not like the founders started Google and people said, ‘Oh, that’s a slam dunk.’ In fact, when people do say it’s a slam dunk, you can be sure it’ll tank.”

2. You don’t have to dive in head-first.
It used to be that if you wanted to start a business you’d have to move your family into the apartment above your general store. Luckily, you no longer have to overhaul your whole life in order to take the leap into business ownership. In fact, you can take small steps to test the waters before leaving your corporate job.

For example, take a freelance gig, then try consulting, and then launch a full-blown business. That way, you’ll have a client base built up before you give up your steady paycheck.

You can also launch a quickie web-based business that you build on nights and weekends, and see who shows up and who talks about it. If it’s a flop, you can just keep working your day job until you come up with a new idea. The quick response of an Internet audience means that it takes months, not years, to figure out if you have a viable business.

3. You don’t need to spend a lot of money.

Starting an Internet company isn’t nearly as expensive as it once was. You used to need up to $5 million in funding from a venture capital firm in order to cover software development and marketing.

Today, the software behind many Internet companies is very cheap, if not free, and marketing consists of sending an email announcement about the company to 50 friends. So the money you need to think about is in the thousands, not the millions.

Think of making your company virtual, with no specific location. This means there are few overhead costs — no rent, no phone line, and no furniture. So the risk of failure doesn’t include risking your ability to pay your mortgage, which is often the case with a failed business stuck in a lease.

4. Rethink success and failure — they’re not black-and-white conditions.

Starting a company doesn’t have to mean you’re building the next Microsoft. It simply gives you an opportunity to learn and grow, and offers you the chance to work with your friends and create the lifestyle you want.

This means that starting a business is a lot less risky than it seems. Conversely, sticking with a corporate job — with no assurance that you’ll stay or, that if you do, you’ll learn anything — is the more risky choice.

The diverse goals of today’s entrepreneurs mean that most companies are a success in some way. If nothing else, it’s difficult to start a company and not learn a lot given the amount of time and effort you put in. Even if the endeavor is as small as a blog-based business, as Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution points out, you learn a lot faster by starting side projects than waiting for your boss to teach you something.

5. Take action.

Ben Casnocha founded Comcate when he was 14, and it’s still running strong five years later. His book, “My Start-Up Life,” describes what it takes to get a company up and running.

Ben’s big message is to take action: “In the early days of any new business, it’s easier to plan than to act. It’s easier to strategize than actually do stuff. I tried to keep action the centerpiece of my strategy.”

Starting a business is taking a risk on your own idea, but it’s a very small one compared to leading a life with no risks. It’s much more interesting to see how your idea plays out — even if it doesn’t work at all — than to never try doing something on your own.

So take one small action today. Starting a business isn’t the huge, sweeping act it once was. It’s simply taking many smaller actions that add up to some of the biggest, best experiences of your life.