When I was fresh out of college and ready to start my career, launching a business -- let alone making it successful -- required overcoming serious logistical and financial hurdles. You needed office space, staff and equipment. Computers, copiers and fax machines were all prohibitively expensive, same with a business phone system.
So you needed startup capital, which meant you first had to sell your idea to investors, max out the credit cards or make an emotional appeal to mom and dad. Then you had to figure out how to prototype and manufacture your product. Then advertising, then distribution and the list could go.
I took a job.
While I've never regretted it, I wonder if my story could have been different. Today's young people -- the millennials - are foregoing the 9-to-5 path and instead opting to build their own companies. According to a 2011 Kauffman Foundation survey, more than half of Millennials (54 percent) either want to start a business or have already started one. And at this moment in history, becoming a young entrepreneur might be as rational a decision as looking for a job. Here's why:
The job market isn't as robust as it once was. Today's hyper-connected, hyper-informed millennials are acutely aware of this, as many of these young people emerged from college amid the great recession. As the August 2013 youth unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, unemployment among young people stood at 16.3 percent -- more than twice the rate of the overall workforce. This figure seems to demonstrate that millennials know they can't rely on the traditional career option -- apply for jobs, go on interviews and wait for offers. Instead, they need to call on their ingenuity to create their own professional futures.
Technology has helped expedite the process. With mobile technology, cloud computing and the proliferation of free (and nearly free) online tools for communication and collaboration, the barriers to starting a business that plagued my generation have all but disappeared today.
Setting up your business is easier and less expensive than ever. Just a couple of decades ago, it was inconceivable to start a business without an office, an expensive business phone solution and a receptionist. You needed all of these things not only to make your business run but also to give the appearance that yours was a successful operation, one that customers could feel confident doing business with. No longer.
Today millions of small businesses are entirely virtual -- run not from a physical office but from a laptop, tablet, smart phone and a set of mobile business apps. In fact, 36 percent of millennial entrepreneurs use more than five mobile apps to run their businesses, according to this year's j2 Global mid-year small business report.
Your can work on the go. Wi-Fi hot spots are proliferating to the point that you can literally carry your business with you anywhere -- to the gym, in the coffee shop or on the train. Google is even blanketing entire public areas with free Wi-Fi. Entrepreneurs can be more responsive to clients than ever, because you can connect with anyone from anywhere. That explains why j2 Global found 56 percent of millennials can imagine, within a year, running their businesses entirely from a tablet.
Advertising is (almost) free. Until a few years ago, advertising meant spending a small fortune on print ads, plastering your message on billboards or pushing your burn rate through the roof with a radio or TV campaign. Your choices were simple: either you commit a lot of money advertising, or you didn't advertise at all.
But with services like Google AdWords, now you can apply a tiny budget -- measured in dollars, not thousands of dollars -- for online ads you create yourself, buy on a pay-as-you-go basis and continually tweak based on response rates. What's more, with social media, low-cost email marketing programs and a little creativity, you can reach thousands of the right people with your message -- virtually for free.
It's not all rainbows and butterflies. Now, I'm not saying this will be easy. In some ways, being an entrepreneur today can be even more demanding than it was for previous generations. For example, the fact that you can connect and collaborate anytime and from anywhere means customers and vendors will expect you to be available around the clock, no matter where you are or what you're doing.
But as a millennial, you're part of the most connected generation ever. You've learned better than anyone before you how to seamlessly blend work and play, how to stay constantly connected to the people you care about and how to multitask.
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