7 Lessons I Learnt From Starting A Business Whilst Being Under 23

Starting a business – or even getting involved as a professional – when you’re young can be intimidating or in my case “ignorance is bliss”.

I was brought up by two parents who worked at an executive level. I was read the Financial Times as a 6-month-old in order to get to sleep. I remember reading “business” manuals that my dad had recently bought whilst I was sat beside a pool at a swimming competition.

You might have also gained knowledge about business from school, books or practical advice from sources online, but there’s a big difference between understanding business fundamentals on paper and gaining actual experience through application. I certainly learnt this whilst at university studying Food Marketing Management.

At 23, I’m already looking forward to being 30, as the potential knowledge and experience I gain in the next 7 years is huge.

At 23, and as my first business is approaching 5 years old from the first day it became a “thing” (in my case, an Instagram Food Blog), I felt it was a good time to reflect and keep the learning cycle alive (See below).

I conversed with other professional friends and they also came to the conclusion that these were 7 of the most common/important lessons made from starting a business and becoming a young professional.

If not already, I hope you also become aware, filter, learn, apply and reflect on the lessons suggested:

1. The right people are worth everything.

I have yet to meet a successful business that has been built by itself. Never would I want to own a business that was built by itself without experiencing the fulfilling feeling to build something with others.

As the famous quote regularly preached by millionaires;

“You are as good as the company you keep’

Understanding the people that add the most value to you and appreciating them will help open up important opportunities to you quicker and prevent you from wasting time with the wrong people when you could be spending more time with the people that find the best out of you.

Seek mentors, partners and comrades that are better than yourself.

2. You’re going to fail – and that’s okay.

“Winners are not those who never fail but those who never quit” – Edwin Louis Cole

There is not an athlete or a business that hasn’t messed up. Even the Growth Hacking model is a cycle of repeatedly trailing and error of digital marketing ideas in order to achieve disruption and high growth.

I learnt this lesson fairly early on. As a swimmer training for competitions that would happen once a year such as the British Championships. I would be training for up to 25 hours a week, 47 weeks of the year and there have been competitions which have just dive bombed (excuse the pun!). You only have two choices in this situation. You either carry on or you quit.

No matter how much you know or how much you prepare, failure is going to be inevitable for you. Your business may become successful overall, but there will be individual strategies and campaigns that crash and burn, and ideas that fizzle out entirely. Facing failure with the realization that it is, in some contexts, unavoidable, makes it easier to accept.

You can view it as a lesson and an opportunity to improve, rather than an endpoint or a sign that you should give up entirely.

3. Time is the only thing you actually possess

Let me paint a picture.

A man in a pinstripe suit walking around a large open office full of cubicle desks with multiple phones ringing, incredibly loud, and he’s shouting:

“Time is money people! Time. IS. Money!”

As he stomps off, wafting his arm around as if it’s a matter of urgency 24/7.

This is what I imagine when someone is in a frantic panic to do something.

The phrase itself was coined by Antiphon (ca. 430 BC) of ancient Greece and is a powerful metaphor that time can be used as a resource. For example, the sooner you start something, the more time you will have to generate benefits for yourself, and the more time you’ll have to work on that project.

I would even go as far to say as agree with this as we go to work to swap our time for a monetary resource. The quicker we can do this, the quicker you generate the rewards.

However, when I first started out, I was super eager to do EVERYTHING! I just wanted to get going and by doing so stretched myself incredibly thin and as a result. I felt I dropped the ball in too many areas.

What I have learnt now, is that there are only so many hours in the day and how I spend my time will directly impact on how much value I am able to produce. For instance, creating a job list and writing them in a hierarchy of “what is going to get me closer to my goal” is one strategy of many I use to be efficient and effective.

I also learnt that I’m young and if I always believe that I’m young, then I’ve always got time to do everything that I want to do.

So let’s not rush and do it right.

4. Communication can prevent or fix almost any problem.

I find myself learning about communication every day. Communication is a huge part of my job and how I work with others. I find it an incredible subject that just keeps on giving – and is truly underestimated.

Communicating proactively can prevent the development of almost any problem– by explaining things clearly, setting firm expectations and mitigating misunderstandings.

For example, musician Daryl Davis in his latest documentary set out to understand why white supremacist wanted to lynch him solely on the colour of his own skin. Through communication, he indirectly converted over 200 members.

Communicating well can also help you resolve any problem – the hard part is communicating itself.

5. Perfection is the enemy of progress.

Over the last 2 years, I have been working on a project with Designed2Eat, my food company, and we’re at the stage where we could easily fall into the trap of perfectionism.

I have written essays at uni which I completed 2 weeks before the deadline and yet, I was still up until 2 am in the morning “perfecting” it the day before deadline day. I blame Parkinson’s Law.

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

I.e. the amount of time you allocate for a project, will be the amount of time it will take.

What I have learnt, is the careful balance of “readiness”, agility and speed. I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re not always going to get it right but being aware is surely better than ignorance.

6. What time is it Mr Wolf?

When someone is debating whether or not he or she should start a business, one of the most common questions that rattles around his or her brain is:

“Is it the right time to start?”

Usually, this is in reference to how financially secure am I? I don’t have enough resources to conceptualise my idea. There’s no way this can work.

Lesson number 6 comes from Bill Gross and his single biggest reason why startups succeed. You can also go watch his TED talk on the subject. This is how it resonated with me.

Designed2Eat is my food business. I started as a student and its never had an investor. At one point in Uni, I was working 3 jobs and always put the money it has earnt, back into the business.

How on earth is it still going? Purely timing. If I had been born 10 or 5 years older, I would not have had the same internet capabilities to my tiny economies of scale that I had on Shopify and social media marketing. The Paleo lifestyle wasn’t really in the UK at this point, neither was CrossFit (the sport that helped Paleo become more well known faster). Designed2Eat could have quite easily not have existed wasn’t it for the fact that the UK has been a huge growth in Free From food and healthy eating.

I recommend watching Bill Gross’s TED talk as he demonstrates how the largest organisations that have disrupted the world we live in is because of timing. YouTube was even one of them. It wouldn’t have been so successful without Adobe Flash.

Question is, is the market ready for you and can you scale to their current needs if not?

7. Learn, learn and when you think you’ve learnt everything you can, learn some more.

To paraphrase a guest on the Tim Ferris Show:

“Every subject is boring if you skim the surface”

Upon reflection, I hated biology in school. It was truly boring. However, it was only 2 years later that became addicted to learning about nutrition and biomechanics. I could never understand why?

Each and every one of us has a school teacher that put us off a subject.

It was only until I heard that sentence utter that it became so clear to me. It’s because the school will often only skim the surface of a subject. I came to the conclusion that “the only thing that changes is change itself” so why not keeping learning and adapting.

BONUS – Knowing when to say yes and when to say no.

Stay tuned for the next article on why saying yes can be a great thing and also can be your biggest pitfall

Do you have an opinion on what Charleh has written? Comment below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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