Being a young entrepreneur definitely has its advantages, but there are also downsides.
I developed the idea and the business plan for Green Bean, a healthy restaurant, during my sophomore year at Washington University in St. Louis, Miss. At first, I kept it a secret, worried family and friends would tell me I was crazy for starting a business at such a young age.
When I decided to finally break it to my mom and dad, I remember sitting on the edge of their bed, nervous to tell them I was planning to take on such a huge endeavor. They could definitely sense my nerves. As I began to explain I wanted to open a restaurant, I surprisingly watched my mother's face soften. As soon as I told them my idea, my mom let out a huge sigh of relief and explained she was thrilled to discover I wasn't pregnant.
Telling my parents about my venture was only one of the many hurdles I faced as a teenage entrepreneur. As a young founder, particularly at a non-technical startup, it's extraordinarily tough to earn credibility. In a people-facing business where you're often relying on first impressions to succeed, it's even more difficult.
Although age is just a number, it does pose a variety of challenges for budding entrepreneurs. Here are some of the greatest adversities I faced, and how I overcame them:
1. Being taken seriously. Just like my parents' reaction, strangers were shocked when I told them I owned the business they just ate at.
Customers would often ask me at the register if our location was a franchise. When I was able to speak knowledgably about the business, they'd inquire if I owned the place. Upon answering yes, the response was always, "Wow, you're so young!" I always laughed and shrugged it off. "You can do anything," I'd say. The trick is to never give anyone a reason to think you can't do it.
As a young entrepreneur, you have to work harder to prove yourself. You'll never be perfect, and you will make mistakes along the way. Fail gracefully, learn from your mistakes and address them with maturity. Confidence, coupled with unwavering humility, goes a long way.
2. Securing funding. For young entrepreneurs starting out, my first piece of advice would be to aim for a business that doesn't need a lot of capital, as it's really difficult to gain access to finances, especially with banks. Unlike VCs and angels, they require extensive personal credibility and financial history. However, launching a business that requires little cash to start up is not always possible.
For a business like mine where raising VC money would be next to impossible and the need for a lot of upfront capital was required, it felt logical to turn to a bank. Yet, it wasn't an easy path.
The best tip would be to work your assets. The easiest route is family and friends. Pitch yourself, your smarts and your dedication in hopes they will support your financially. Even if they're not willing or able to directly invest money, they might consider signing on a loan with you to help boost your credibility with banks.
Another option for young entrepreneurs, especially those with poor credit or launching their first company, is to look at companies that deal with "high risk" people. Keep in mind, these companies may provide capital but tend to have high interest rates.
3. Being relatable to your friends. As supportive as friends can be (mine were the cream of the crop), they'll never truly grasp what you're going through. And vice versa. You'll never understand why they insist upon spending hours in the library and complaining about having to get up early one day a week.
But having a close connection with your peers is pivotal in growing. So make sure you separate your entrepreneurial life from your social life. Be a kid, and then be an adult. You're smart enough to do both.
The path of an entrepreneur is never easy, but youth poses added difficulties. Rise above them, and you will be an even more impressive entrepreneur for it.
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