The inventor of a streaming music app gives his best advice.
- Young entrepreneurs are proliferating as they increasingly balk at the notion of working their way up the corporate ladder.
- “Kidpreneurs” may start with a great idea or philanthropic purpose as young as 9 or 10 years old.
- Young or old, self-starters have a particular set of personality traits that keep them focused on their goals.
By the age of 24, Richard Zelson already knew the ins and outs of running his own business. In 2013, the young entrepreneur launched MyStream, a mobile device app that allows users to listen to music simultaneously with the people around them.
We asked Zelson for his top tips for starting a business under the age of 25.
1. Choose the right jobs out of school.
While Zelson wanted an investment banking job, the one he landed instead – at a small real estate firm – helped set up his career for success, because it gave him a necessary foundation for an eventual journey into entrepreneurship.
"This turned out to be one of the best opportunities of my life," Zelson said. "I was able to learn the ins and outs of running a small business, and that hands-on experience directly helped me turn my idea into a functioning product and ongoing business."
2. Make sure everyone's interests align.
As an economics major, Zelson said it was critical for him to create a team environment with an open communication structure where everyone's interests were aligned.
"This way, everyone can work on their own tasks in a parallel path with the same end goal in mind – to support the success of the company," he said.
3. Realize that being a part of something is better than being all of nothing.
Zelson said it's important to be prepared to take an offer that is less than ideal in order to at least get the ball rolling, because "the experience you can gain ... for any future ideas that you may have" is worthwhile. "There is a lot to learn about running a business that you cannot know until you try."
4. Do your due diligence on the business idea.
Zelson believes it is critical for young entrepreneurs to know everything there is to know about their product and the industry before going to investors.
"You need to have thought of every possible question that may be asked, and have a good answer for each. This goes for both the business idea and the people involved."
5. Surround yourself with people who are good at what they do.
It is necessary to assemble a team that has strengths in areas where you may struggle. Zelson said the success of a company hinges on the abilities and professionalism of the team as a whole.
"At the end of the day, you are only as good as the people you work with. If you create a weak team, then you will have a weak product, but if you have a great team, then your potential is unlimited."
Beyond these fundamentals, here are some additional tips for young entrepreneurs.
6. Trust your instincts.
Possibly the most important – and hardest – component of great success for young entrepreneurs is a great idea. Keeping an eye out for and recognizing that brilliant innovation when it comes along is key. One of the most successful teen impresarios, Nick D'Aloisio, created and sold an app to Yahoo that Yahoo just wanted to own, not use. Yahoo wanted Summly for its algorithm, and D'Aloisio only had to tag along for 18 months – not bad for the then-17-year-old, who netted over $10 million.
One of the most famous young entrepreneurs is Mark Zuckerberg, but many people don't know that well before his time at Harvard, he invented a messaging system for his father's dental office called Zucknet. His biography outlines his early programming work as a Harvard freshman. Even while engaged in academic work, he created two computer programs and then a third project that led up to Facebook (he dropped out of college after his sophomore year to work on the Facebook launch full time).
Like Zuckerberg, many young entrepreneurs are motivated by more than money. They may be pursuing a vision to make the world a better place through their work or philanthropy. A report by Fidelity Charitable indicated that giving by households headed by entrepreneurs is more than four times that of non-entrepreneurs.
7. Put in the hard work.
On the other hand, some young people seem to succeed through hard work and perseverance more than inspiration. According to a story about kidpreneurs on Investopedia, "Cameron Johnson got his start at the age of 9, making invitations for his parents' holiday party. Two years later, Johnson had made thousands of dollars selling cards through his company he called Cheers and Tears. At age 12, he paid $100 for his sister's 30 Beanie Babies and sold them on eBay for 10 times what he paid. He then purchased the dolls directly from the manufacturer and made a $50,000 profit in less than a year. He used that money to start an internet business that brought in $3,000 per month in advertising revenue. By the time he was 15, he had formed other businesses with total revenues of $300,000 to $400,000 per month."
For entrepreneurs of any age, an important tip is to take risks, believe in yourself, be flexible, and go for broke. The founder of Mo's Bows gives this advice: "Figure out what you like doing, then find out how you can make money doing it, then just let your passion drive your business." Sounds like great advice, especially coming from then-9-year-old Moziah, a Memphis-based kidpreneur who has not only made a deal on Shark Tank but continues to sell his product on Shopify as well.
Monster.com notes that young entrepreneurs need these traits to succeed:
- Risk tolerance