The highs and lows of life as a young entrepreneur
10 successful founders tell us why you need passion, drive and a little bit of ‘cheek’ to succeed as a young entrepreneur...
The stories of young entrepreneurs rising up in the world of British business are legion with some of the biggest household name start-up founders, such as Sir Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar, launching before they were even out of their teens.
And as funding and business support become more widespread and inclusive, and technology and innovation continue to open up new possibilities, we’ve seen a rise in the number of dynamic and impressive start-ups created by prodigiously youthful entrepreneurs – so much so one colleague recently joked launching a business today is much like starting a band was in the 1990s.
Starting young, however, still comes with its own set of challenges, like the “struggle to be taken seriously” and having a lack of experience. It also comes with a wealth of benefits, with many young business owners citing fewer personal responsibilities and using their age to make their business stand out as big advantages.
To get a better understanding of what life is like as fledging go-getter, we’ve enlisted some of our Young Entrepreneurs of 2015 winners to share the travails and triumphs of life as a start-up rock star…
Melanie Goldsmith (24) co-founder of Smith & Sinclair
“The obvious benefit is the lack of other responsibilities. I don’t have a family to take care of or a mortgage, so my freedom is almost limitless. This means I can harness a fearless attitude and have a great amount of flexibility when making decisions.
“My most significant challenges to date have been down to a lack of experience. Neither myself, nor my co-founder Emile, had any experience in retail so everything has been learned on the job and learned quickly.”
Billy Woodford (24) founder of NoCopyrightSounds
“The main challenge for me was being confident enough. I found it hard to describe what I was doing to my parents and found it daunting at the start when I realised I was on my own, that I had no contacts and had very little knowledge of the industry. I just knew that I was on to something.
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“Regardless of initial the challenges I have witnessed many benefits of being a young entrepreneur. When I need to make a decision on something and then I see the positive result that decision has for the brand it gives me confidence. I’m now independent and much more self-reliant than I ever was before starting up.”
Calum L. Leslie (23) founder of Wooju
“Impatience is the biggest challenge of being a young entrepreneur. It takes times to build a great company – years to build an empire. I fully subscribe to the theory, but it is often difficult to sit back and accept that a great thing takes time to build.
“The upside is that time is truly on our side. We can afford to implement trial and error. If something doesn’t work (assuming you allow for enough time and that impatience doesn’t play a role in your decision to switch) then you can move onto the next idea.”
Grace Regan and James Macleod (24) founders of Clippet
“So many of the benefits also raise the biggest challenges. Firstly, you’ve only got yourself to answer to. This is great but it also means that it’s crucial that you maintain your self-motivation as there’s no one else there breathing down your neck, telling you to work harder and do better.
“Another benefit is you get to meet so many inspiring, gifted and experienced people from the entrepreneurial world who can teach you a lot. However, being so young, it’s easy to take all the advice that comes your way, losing sight of your gut instincts and original vision. We’ve learnt that it’s a real skill knowing what advice to take and what to leave.”
Christian Owens (20) founder Paddle
“Being a young entrepreneur certainly had its challenges, especially walking into meetings and handling first impressions like, ‘He’s young!’
“But it definitely has its advantages too – being young we don’t have dependants or huge home/life responsibilities, so it really gives you the opportunity to take a risk and go for it without reservations.”
Josh and Hyrum Cook (22, 24) founders of Zeven Media
“The benefits are the excitement, the interesting people we meet and giving other young people the opportunity to gain good employment – we currently employ an apprentice who has an important role in the company, and we are looking to expand the number of apprentices in our organisation.”
Michael Venn (22) founder of Tagstr
“In regards to my latest project, I saw it grow from myself to a team of 10 people quite quickly as a result of being able to devote most of my time and effort. And I got to grow alongside my team and learn many invaluable skills.
“I suddenly had to deal with my own team and employees instead of working on my own and dealing with a contractor. My working day became different, I had to take on more responsibility, I had to pitch to investors it was a massive learning curve as I had never dealt with anything of this size and magnitude before.”
Nina Devani (16) founder of DevaniSoft
“There are definitely challenges to being a young entrepreneur. I like to get things done quickly and when I first started I thought I could get the product to market in a few weeks. Being younger can mean fewer people take you seriously and often you don’t know everything that needs to be addressed and thought about.
“But seeing your ideas turn into a reality develops a really strong sense of independence and satisfaction and being a young entrepreneur has allowed to me to travel to places I have never been before. It really sets you on the right path for the future, having already gained experience from a young age.”
Tom Hatton (24) founder of REfME
“You have to eat, breathe, drink, and sleep your business. Otherwise it won’t happen as there are lots of challenges that come with running your own business. I am 24 and the CEO of a company with 30-plus people. I have to manage and work with people who have far more experienced than me but also work with people who have families who are putting their livelihoods in my hands.
“What is great though is bringing on those exact people who trust you and who believe in the same vision.”
Ben Towers (16) founder of Towers Design and Social Marley
“Being young means you shed a new light on solving problems, which have been in the industry for a long time. This also means you are more buoyant in overcoming problems and turning them around to work in your favour.
“But being a young entrepreneur does mean that you are often seen as not trustworthy, especially with longer contracts. Also, young people are sometime treated differently by other entrepreneurs but I would say utilise this and use the fact you are treated differently to your advantage. And don’t be afraid to be a bit cheeky!”
For more advice and experiences from entrepreneurs, check out our How they started: business success stories section.