Millennial Think Tank: Gen Y and Entrepreneurship

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This week our Think Tank was jam packed with lots of brainpower, so I’ll get right to the introduction of our all Millennial panel:

This week we focused on Entrepreneurship in the Millennial generation, looking for input from our panel not only on how they defined it, but how they personally embraced it. As always I framed the debate with some facts:

  1. Despite the cost, they’re going to college: Gen Y is becoming the most educated generation in history, a position currently held by Gen X. When this current crop of 18 year olds, the youngest of the generation, finishes their undergrads they will overtake that position.
  2. They are driven: In a Pew Research study, ‘many to most’ Millennials stated a desire to start their own business.
  3. Their experience matters: They have witnessed instability in the workplace, corporate scandals, and a really tough job market.
  4. They’re already doing it: 27% of Gen Y is self employed.
  5. There are huge obstacles:  The inability to get loans, lack of on the job business training & resources, and the worst economic climate since the Great Depression make it a tough row to hoe.

To watch or listen to the hangout in full see below, or continue reading for a recap of the discussion:

What is an Entrepreneur?

This was a question I had to ask at the start, because during my research for this show it became obvious that people had varying opinions about what being an Entrepreneur actually meant. Our panelists responded with the following insights:

  • Someone who takes a lot of risks financially.
  • ALL small business owners are not entrepreneurs; high volume growth is vital.
  • It’s really about “the way you treat your business.” People who are willing to assess risk, and emotionally, physically and financially invest themselves in their business are entrepreneurs.

What Prompted Our Millennials to Strike Out as Entrepreneurs?

We wanted to know more about their individual stories, so we asked each panelist to tell us about why they decided to take the plunge. Here are the responses:

Daniel Hebert founded out of career necessity; upon graduating from college he couldn’t find a job and did not want his resume to become stale with huge ‘unemployed’ gaps. He and his partner DJ Thistle started the business in 2012 and found a job within months. Their goal was never about revenue.

Miranda Petty started Bright Shadows out of inspiration more than necessity. The army provided her with the tools and the mindset, she was familiar with the medical profession, and saw a real need by doctors to input information for their patients.

Kayvon Asemani’s love of music is where his Entrepreneurial roots lie, but he doesn’t want to be just another starving musician. One reason he is going to attend Wharton with a focus on finance instead of choosing to go to a music school is because he wants to be in charge of his own future, not dependent upon other business people to run it.

Tiffany Daniels, who has worked with both employers and job seekers for much of her career, took the opportunity to stress, once again, how important internships and training are. She used the example of many of her musician friends who, without the practical experience Kayvon was targeting, were forced to do other jobs to get by because they couldn’t find a way to make money in the profession they loved.

How Has Technology Impacted Entrepreneurship?

Regarding how technology has impacted their businesses individually:

Eze Redwood talked about the speed with which one could act upon an  idea because of the advances of technology, particularly because it opened up access to both information and investors.

Daniel Hebert talked about his purely virtual company, not only about how it was built within tech, but how they have built their company and their network without having a physical presence. To this day, all 3 founders have not been together in one place.

Daniel Newman runs a company with a presence on 3 continents that is purely virtual. A person with a laptop can become an Entrepreneur without ever taking office space, running a huge company rather than simply a side hustle. Large, traditional companies are also adjusting to this virtual world.

Video conferencing is one of the most important components to building relationships and trust via the internet; visual communication increases comprehension over a standard phone call. It also lends itself to more efficient meetings, because the ‘water cooler talk’ ingredient that has been part of all meetings for time immemorial is cut way down.

Who Are Your Entrepreneurial Heroes?

One of the most interesting segments of the hangout was when we asked our panelists who their individual Entrepreneur heroes were. Here’s what we got:

Daniel Newman, who loves disruption, named Jeff Bazos of Amazon, and Brad Hunstable, founder of Ustream, because they continue to look at very different ways to tackle existing industries.

Daniel Hebert prefers some really traditional Entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs, Walt Disney,  but also adds tech folks like Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich from Buffer App for their innovation and transparency, and Robert Caruso of Bundlepost for his drive and dedication to his business.

Eze Redwood named Michael Hoolihan of Barefoot Wines for his creation of a new sector in wine, making it less snobby and for creating a good wine at a decent price.

Kayvon Asemani: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, JayZ and Kanye West, but his true hero is Milton Hershey, who brought milk chocolate to the world, but who has also changed the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children by founding Milton Hershey School.

Joe Cardillo named Kimberly Bryant who started Black Girls Code, Al Toward an open data civic tech advocate, Lauren Bacon who founded a web development company, and Mark Andreeson.

Miranda Petty had a unique take on heroes, and feels that people should stop trying to be the ‘next X,’ and focus on being the best individual they can be.

Tiffany Daniels named Russell Simmons because he was able to bring a new genre of music to mainstream, but also poetry slams, celebrity run fashion lines, to finance… he touched so many things because he was able to successful in music but reach out.

How Hard Do You Have to Work?

Daniel Newman drove this segment of our discussion by bringing up the point that successful Millennials know how to work smarter, and that ‘hard work’ as a slogan is often glorified when it is not always effective. If you can find the right team and the right ideas, you can achieve revenue, social good, and accomplishments without working an 80 hour work week. Daniel thinks that the Millennial generation understands that.

Kayvon Asemani countered that with his own story of hard work, describing how he did not think he was the smartest person in his class, yet he ended up Valedictorian of the 2014 class of Milton Hershey School. He questioned whether many of these brilliant ‘short day’ workers could have accomplished so much more had they worked more hours.

How Important is the DIY Nature?

Joe Cardillo raised the topic of doing it yourself; many times in his career and life he’d asked about the possibility of something only to be told to ‘go hack it yourself.’ This made me pause, as I considered something I think Entrepreneurs all have: the ability to scale and delegate. How do the two traits meld?

Daniel Newman talked about how you ‘productize’ things that are of great value, like social communities, engagement, social marketing, and build the business so that others can contribute and you can scale it. The ability to get people around you to execute your business is the key to entrepreneurial success.

Joe brought it back to being able to bring in exploratory people who will never be the cog in the wheel; scaling is only enjoyable when it maintains that start up mentality.

What Are Your Two  Pieces of Advice For a New Entrepreneur?

This was perhaps my favorite part of the hangout, and provided some real profundity:

Daniel Newman:

  1. A great idea you don’t like will never succeed. If you get into something just for the money, you’ll fail. Money is not enough to sustain you for the long run.
  2. A smart entrepreneur never outsources the intelligence capabilities of their business; you must understand the fundamentals of your business.

Daniel Hebert: 

  1. If you’re not in love with your business concept, you’ll fail.
  2. Develop a strong network of experts; you don’t know everything about your business and you never will. Get people at every stage of your business who can help you, but get to know them before you need them.

Eze Redwood:

  1. Keep developing your skills; you must keep growing as a person.
  2. Build up your network before you need the help.

Miranda Petty:

  1. Persistence is essential.
  2. Make sure you are surrounded by mentors, and those who can support you emotionally and financially.

Tiffany Daniels:

  1. Stay aware of your competition; you have to be able to articulate what sets you apart.
  2. Love what you do.

What’s Up Next?

Yes, our heads are full from all of that information, but we’ll persevere. Next Thursday at 8pm we tackle Privacy, how technology has changed both our real life experience and our concept of it, with a focus on how Millennials perceive it. Catch it here.

Photo credit: via photopin cc.

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