A year and a half ago, I never would have thought the e-commerce business I was building in my boxer shorts out of my college dorm room would have grown to become a $20 million global enterprise with more than 60 employees.
At the time, I was about to graduate from college and turned down a career with the world’s leading management consulting firm, and my mother was upset with me for amassing credit card debt to get the business off the ground. “Not everyone can be Mark Zuckerberg,” she told me in a plea to get me to ask the management consulting firm to take me back.
I’m 23 now, have an incredible business partner and just completed a successful Black Friday and holiday season. Despite the many who told me I needed experience before starting a business of my own, I’m thankful I forged my own path. I believe age, when and whether you graduated from college, and experience aren’t the deciding factors of success. Hustle and determination are.
Here are three things I learned along the way:
1. Know yourself and what excites you.
When you’re in college, large companies visit campus to recruit students, and often, it’s all we’re exposed to. But I believe this can lead us to make incomplete decisions. From my first year in college, I convinced myself I wanted to go into management consulting. Then, I got the job offer of a lifetime and couldn’t bring myself to accept it. Instead, I took a gap year after graduating to start my business.
But finding your passion is tricky, so I have three pieces of advice to help you get started:
• Find and focus on something that brings you passion and fulfillment, rather than a means to make quick and easy money. From my perspective, there’s no such thing. Every form of entrepreneurship is hard, but it’s worth it. You just have to be willing to work for it.
• You’ll know you found your passion when you refuse to give up. When I had credit card debt, continued pursuing e-commerce and turned down a lucrative job offer, some said I was irrational. However, I was so addicted to making it work for me that failure wasn’t an option. I know it has made me successful, and I believe passion plays a big role in whether you’ll succeed.
• Google, YouTube and Facebook groups are the helpful resources for detailed information on various forms of entrepreneurship and can help you make the best decision.
2. Your business could become your life.
When you work for a company, your job is clearly defined with parameters around the hours and days you work. When you’re a business owner, it’s easy to let your company become your life. You often have to work however many days and hours are required to make it a success because something always needs attention and improvement. There is also constant pressure to outperform the competition, so you feel you can’t rest.
But remember that as a business owner, you’re in control. What you do every day is your decision. Long hours, little sleep and constant failure might be easy to stomach when you’re doing something you love, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
• Take care of your health by working out and eating a balanced diet. Over time, it will make a world of difference in your attitude, results and how your business is affected.
• Be proactive in freeing your time. Entrepreneurs are hard workers, but I believe the most successful are those who work smart to generate a sustainable high performance because they understand that time is the scarcest and most important resource they have. So be intentional about when you do (and don’t) work.
• Entrepreneurship should be a lifelong journey, not a one- or two-year pursuit to increase your net worth by a specific financial amount. There are moments in which you’ll need to grind, and others to recharge. If you neglect your needs in pursuit of your goals, you’ll be miserable and burn out fast. Pace yourself and take care of yourself. You’ll have more energy, passion and creativity to contribute to your business.
3. Learning from others’ mistakes is key.
A key lesson I learned is to not wait to enter the marketplace. The earlier you launch, the earlier you can begin improving. Delaying is a common mistake I’ve observed young entrepreneurs often make. A few other lessons I learned from others’ mistakes include:
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re new to entrepreneurship, you likely don’t have much experience under your belt. If you walk into a meeting as if you’re negotiating the acquisition of a billion-dollar company, rather than a young startup, you could turn off investors.
• Your idea is worth nothing. Value is in the execution.
• Be generous with equity and ideas.
• Don’t try to do everything yourself. Partner with someone who shares your passion, and the long nights, hard work, and ups and downs will be easier to bear.
• Take proper steps to protect yourself and your business, especially if it has progressed and you’ve put in work and reaped results.
• Take care when negotiating agreements. My business partner and I are 50/50, but the ratio of work we each contributed to the business didn’t start off that way. From the start, I gave him half because I believed in him and our partnership. I knew that in the long run, he’d pay it back. A key question to ask yourself is if you want a big chunk of a small pie or a smaller piece of a massive one.
No matter your age, taking the leap toward entrepreneurship is a challenging one. But by pursuing your passion, finding a healthy work-life balance and learning from others’ mistakes, I believe your risk will be worth it and you’ll be on your way to building a successful business.