How to make it as a young entrepreneur
25 year-old James Gupta sold his first business to Addison Lee and is now onto his second, all while juggling university studies. Learn from his advice...
More young people than ever before are considering becoming entrepreneurs. This is likely down to a combination of being inspired by the success of Facebook and other new companies, feeling dismayed by the current jobs market, and sharing excitement about the possibilities of emerging technologies.
As a 25 year-old student-turned entrepreneur, I have some advice to offer those considering starting a business at a young age.
I sold my first business, student taxi-sharing app JumpIn, to Addison Lee and, more recently, launched my new venture Synap – a revolutionary study platform which has received £195,000 investment via crowdfunding.
Synap has, so far, been downloaded by 80,000 students and is on course to generate £500,000 revenue this year.
Reflecting on my journey, here are my tips for budding young entrepreneurs looking to start a business – and ways to make your start-up a success:
Find a mentor
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to learn new things. The start-up community in particular has access to a plethora of books, podcasts, courses and articles written by experts (like Startups.co.uk).
Some things, however, can only be learnt from experience.
Starting a business is a sure fire way to gain that experience quickly but, in the meantime, you’ll do yourself a huge favour by finding a suitable mentor.
Ideally you want someone who thinks like you, and has knowledge of your business' industry, but has been playing the game for longer with a few grey hairs to show for it!
The right mentor can be an invaluable source of wisdom for young entrepreneurs. Learning from your mistakes is great, but learning from someone else’s mistakes is even better.
Seek out grants, scholarships and other opportunities
However, you should remember to check out lesser-known schemes aimed specifically at young entrepreneurs too.
Student enterprise departments are becomingly increasingly commonplace in universities, such as Spark at the University of Leeds which supported my own company with grants, mentoring and office space.
You should also research schemes such as the Prince’s Trust, Duke of York Young Entrepreneur’s award, and private charities like Jisc who support young entrepreneurs in a variety of ways.
I speak to young people all the time who have an innovative idea; often an app, website or other technology based intervention, and they want to hire some geeks to make it a reality.
I’m a developer by background and I’ve always insisted on having an active, if not a leading role, in creating products. This has allowed me and my team to make my vision a reality without distorting it through multiple layers of project specifications.
It let me create something that is not only functional, but delightful, and in today’s market that is the bar you have to aim for.
Coding isn’t for everyone, and not every founder should do it, but if you put the time into understanding the technology behind your product, the returns will be tenfold.
Manage your energy, not your time
You only have a limited amount of time in the day, and you have an even more limited amount of energy.
We’ve all had those days where we have a huge list of things to do, and we sit in front of a screen for 12 hours but nothing seems to come of it.
In these situations the temptation is to double down on work – cancel arrangements with friends, have another Red Bull, skip dinner – but if you’ve lost steam then you’re just wasting time.
Instead disengage for a bit, turn you airplane mode on, take the evening off, catch up with a friend etc.
Your brain makes the most of its interesting connections when you’re not actively working on a problem – it’s why we have the phrase ‘sleep on it’, and why Google have ping pong tables in their offices.
It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.
Write, talk and discuss (get your ideas out there)
Whilst your long-term memory is essentially unlimited, in the short term your brain can only hold 7±2 pieces of information at any given time.
This is a significant bottleneck when you’re running a company juggling responsibilities from technical, marketing, finance, HR and legal at the same time.
It’s important to put your thoughts into language in some way; whether that’s writing articles, keeping a diary, recording a podcast or just brainstorming with friends.
You need to do a ‘data dump’ and clean up your thoughts every so often, otherwise you’ll just drown in a sea of vaguely connected ideas.
Putting your thoughts into language helps you visualise and consolidate your vision meaning that you can understand and explain your thoughts better to yourself, employees, investors and customers, which is arguably your most important role as an entrepreneur.
Finally, don’t base your brand on being a ‘young entrepreneur’
If someone wants to offer you some recognition for being a ‘young entrepreneur’ then take it but don’t make that the most impressive thing about you or your company.
Young entrepreneurs absolutely face unique challenges around cashflow, attracting investor attention and gaining experience but if you look at any demographic of entrepreneur, you’re going to find other sacrifices they made and adversities they had to overcome in order to succeed. Whether that’s looking after children, dealing with illness or working multiple jobs.
‘Incredible for a 25-year-old’ is a lovely compliment but ‘Incredible’ is even better so aim for that!
James Gupta is a serial entrepreneur, currently working as the founder and CEO of Synap, an AI-powered education platform. He is also a final year medical student at Leeds University.