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 (being under 23) can be intimidating or in my case “ignorance is bliss”. There are many lessons, 7 in fact, to be learnt.
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. Setting the scene, it was inevitable that I was going to be in business one way or another.
The Millennials Phenomenon
As of 2019, 40% of millennial businesses are solely owned and operated by the owner, compared to 31% of baby boomers. With the proliferation of technology, its no surprise that modern generations are taking advantage of this and taking control of their life and destiny.
In fact, 80% of young people (between 16 – 21) want to start a business. Business Guru’s on Instagram make being an entrepreneur look cool. Success stories such as Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook demonstrate the long term benefits of working hard.
Owning a business no longer has the image of a stuffy, corporate office box where you have to uncomfortable suits and work long hours. Nowadays, businesses are more likely to have artificial grass for carpet and barista-style cafes situated at reception.
Times have changed for sure.
Starting a Business Under 23
By 23, you might have 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, you’re already looking forward to being 30, as the potential knowledge and experience I gain in the next 7 years is huge. You’ve already gone through one growth phrase as you transitioned from leaving home to being independent. Next, you’re about to go through the phase of figuring out exactly who you are from all the different aspects of your life.
At 23, and as my first business was approaching 5 years old from the first day, I felt it was a good time to reflect and keep the learning cycle alive (See below).
From conversing with other professional friends, they came to the same conclusion as me: that these were 7 of the most common/important lessons made from starting a business and becoming a young professional.
If you haven’t 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. Every successful leader has sighted their successful from having a brilliant team around them.
I wouldn’t want to grow a business without experiencing the fulfilling feeling of building something meaningful with a team.
As the famous quote regularly preached by millionaires;
“You are as good as the company you keep.’
Understanding your employees (and suppliers) in your business and how they work, will help open up important opportunities. The first place you can start when it comes to understanding others, it truly understanding yourself.
Unique Ability® is a fantastic book is a great place to start to discover what your strengths are and how you can create a life that’s rewarding. At the end of the day, if you’re always doing what you love, you’ll work harder, be more innovative and be more successful.
If you can repeat this process with your employees or suppliers, cumulative the business is overall more successful.
Unfortunately, finding the right people isn’t as easy, particularly when you’re starting a business under 23. You’ll always second guess yourself as the lack of experience takes over. However, there are models out there to help you through it.
Starting with your values.
It might seem simple but it’s very effective. I’ll explain. If all your employees have the same values as you, they’ll naturally adhere to them and are less likely to go against them. So, on an everyday level, you’ll feel less stress and worried about the performance of your employees.
If you’re ever worried that an employee, supplier or partner are not “gelling” with you (or as I like to say, my spidey senses are tingling), then you can take them through the Accountability Chart developed by Gino Wickman, Traction.
Are they align with your values and do they “get it”, “want it” and “capacity to do” their job.
Seek mentors, partners and comrades that can provide an external viewpoint on your analysis.
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 would have been competitions in between all of that.
You only have two choices in this situation: adapt or die.
No matter how much you know or how much you prepare, failure is going to be inevitable for you. At the end of the day, it’s how you react to it that matters when something does fail.
Instead of viewing failure as the definitive endpoint, the alternative perspective is failures are lessons to be learnt. It’s your opportunity to improve rather than a sign that you should give up entirely.
Just because something didn’t work one way, doesn’t mean that there isn’t another way.
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 as 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.
The lesson learnt from is, is that there are only so many hours in the day and how you spend your time will directly impact on how much value you’re able to produce.
How do you work out how to maximise your productivity output?
Create a job list. Order them into a hierarchy of “what is going to get me closer to my goal”. Then work through the list ensuring that you each element well.
There’s nothing worst that half arsing a task. You’ll only get back what you put in, so let’s not rush and do it right. You’re starting a business under 23 after all.
4. Communication can prevent or fix almost any problem.
I find myself learning about communication every day. Communication is a huge part of my digital marketing agency 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.
Many managers find themselves in a frustrating position because their employees don’t do what they want them to do. After the give “clear instructions”, Dave presents completely different data to what was asked of him. 9 out of 10 times, this will be because the manager has given what they thought were clear instructions and could have possibly forgotten they could be using terminology that the employee doesn’t understand yet.
When daily office life gets busy, it’s so easy to just assume and think someone else has got this. Language is absolutely paramount and if you’re not on the same page as your team, that’s when systems and processes break down.
5. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
In every business, there will be a number of tasks that you could just “touch up here” “touch up there”. The classic one in the office is a picture an mm to the left, up a bit, down a bit and right a bit. So on and so on. This goes on every day.
Whilst this is absolutely necessary when working on your product, you can hold back from launching a product for so long that you’ll miss out on opportunities. The window to really push and get your name out there might pass you by and your business dead before you’ve even launched it.
That’ll especially apply to when you’re starting a business under 23 years old. But let’s say your first idea has flown and you’re working on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc idea. Your business isn’t going to continue growing if you can’t get the product to the customer.
After many years now, developing food, drink, marketing and business service products, I’ve learnt not one but two lessons.
Let’s start with 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
This leads me nicely onto point no.2 – Minimum Viable Product
Within KUB, we’ve launched many MVPs on behalf of companies. It’s a great solution to keeping the costs down when starting a business as well as being agile. This agile part is the key to making a more successful product in the long run.
In the aigle process, if you collect data from the customer and find out actually what they want, then you’ll be starting a business that’s demanded.
More demand = More growth. What’s not to love.
6. What time is it Mr Wolf?
When someone is debating whether or not they 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 it 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. Upon reflection, this seems nuts but it was the only way without putting any financial strain on it and kill all creativity around it.
What it had going for it were the external factors. Before starting a business, research, research, research should be a priority. With Designed2Eat, I had the internet capabilities to promote it through an online shop and social media. This meant I didn’t need physical bricks and mortar to get going.
On a wider scale, 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.
What’s the action point from this lesson? Read, audiobook, podcast, Youtube. Find out how you learn best whether it’s audio, visual, practical and do one little thing a day.
Currently, listening to 20 minutes of a podcast to and from work, as well as reading 4 or so pages of a book a night does the trick for me. I’m a visual and practical learner so I have to apply the lessons I’ve learnt to them remember it.