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Entrepreneurship in your 20s: what you can learn from those who succeeded at it

Tarun Mittal
6th Feb 2018
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Are you a 20-something with dreams of entrepreneurship who isn’t sure if you should take the plunge? Worried about your chances of success? You’re not alone. In your 20s, it might seem like you barely know enough to set up and run a business, but remember, some of the most successful and notable entrepreneurs of today began their journey in their 20s. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Cuban, Marc Andreessen, and more all spent their early years of adulthood either starting their own businesses or accruing vital information that would one day help them achieve success.

The path to building a successful company is, of course, a difficult one. You may have to work for years without earning a single dollar or see several businesses fail one after another like some of these leaders did. But they braved the storm, and today the world uses their inspirational stories of overcoming hardship as examples to emulate for the next generation. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur in your 20s, here are some key lessons you can learn from those who have been there and done that:

Image: Pixabay

Take risks

People in their 20s have a higher degree of financial and personal freedom when compared to those a decade or so older than them. Not having a family to look after or a house loan to pay off frees one from the obligation of pursuing work for the sole purpose of making money. This freedom allows you to take risks and experiment on your entrepreneurial journey.

The Virgin Group, for example, was started by Richard Branson as a chain of record stores which soon evolved into a music label. Today, however, the Virgin Group is a conglomerate with a diverse range of interests that include everything from banking and retail to a commercial airline service and aspiring spaceflight programme. All this was possible because Richard was never hesitant in exploring new avenues of business at every opportunity he got.

Stay passionate and persevere

If there is one thing all entrepreneurs agree on about starting a business, it is this – it’s bloody hard work. It doesn’t matter if you’re a college dropout or a Harvard graduate, the only path to success involves you working till you can’t work anymore, and then some. It’s easy to be passionate about something, but persevering with that passion without even a hint of success is difficult. But that’s what separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest – the ability to regularly make small but crucial decisions while keeping the bigger picture in mind. This is possible only when one familiarises themselves with the concept of delayed gratification.

Mark Zuckerberg could have sold Facebook to Yahoo! for $1 billion back in 2006, but the then 22-year-old controversially turned down the offer because he believed in the company. Today he is the founder of one of the largest companies in the world, with an astronomical personal net worth of US$76.6 billion, as of January 2018.

Master the social game

People are perhaps the most crucial element of running a business, and all successful entrepreneurs have mastered the art of human interaction. This is where networking comes in. Meeting and forging relationships with a diverse range of people can prove to be invaluable for an entrepreneur. These contacts could one day help you forge a new business partnership, or help you gain investments, or simply provide support when you need it the most.

The journey’s always easier when you have backers. It’s important to not forget the flip side of networking – give back as much as you can. Just taking help from people does not suffice – offer help and advice to those who need it just as readily as you seek it from others. You never know when you’ll be paid back in kind.

Never stop learning

Learning is a lifelong process, and entrepreneurs would do well to always remember that. You might be an aspiring entrepreneur who’s working in what seems like a dead-end job because you need the money. But keep in mind that there’s always something that can be learned if only you are willing to learn it. In your 20s, you’re at the ideal age to garner as much knowledge as you possibly can. Work different jobs, try your hand at new things, and if you fail, chalk it up to valuable experience and move on.

Billionaire entrepreneur and VC Mark Cuban started his career as a bartender, after which he became a salesperson for a PC software retailer. After being fired, he used the knowledge and contacts he had acquired during his tenure at the job to start his own company, which he subsequently sold for $6 million. Mark has often credited his success in large part to his willingness to learn about new technologies and businesses that interested him.

Good leadership 101: take care of employees

Aspiring entrepreneurs need to realise the value experienced and talented employees can provide. In their initial experience leading organisations, many 20-year-olds are inclined to micromanage every chance they get. But successful entrepreneurs know that the only way to set up a business is to build a great team that challenges and pushes them to new heights. This is possible only when entrepreneurs truly care about those working with them.

Many founders expect their employees to put in long hours of back-breaking work just because they’re working for a startup. But that won’t happen unless they are valued by their employer and are seeing their hard work achieving tangible results. Employee motivation and productivity can’t be bolstered by money alone; it takes empathy and open-mindedness to maximise your team’s results.

While it does pay to start your entrepreneurial journey early, keep in mind that it’s never too late to do so either. Jack Ma (Alibaba), Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), and Charles Ranlett Flint (IBM), just to name a few, are all testament to this fact. No matter what your age, if you have an entrepreneurial dream you really believe in and wish to pursue, keep these lessons in mind, and you’ll be well-set on the path to success.

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