Eric and I just celebrated 10 years being business owners. We opened our first business when I was 21 and he was 23, Caffeine Dreams Coffee and Tea in Omaha, Nebraska. We sold that in 2005 and opened fourfour media web consulting and have been running that ever since. We have also opened, killed and buried a few businesses along the way…Trident Records (recording studio/record label), Confluence Creative (video production and web design). Now that we are old and wise, we thought we would share some of the pros and cons for any other young folks thinking about getting into the mix.
1. Not afraid to fail- When you are young, you haven’t failed enough times to be scared of falling on your face. You just expect that everything will work out the way you envision it. It is amazing to look at opening a business at that age and really have no fear. Anything is possible, you get to be creative and really see if you have what it takes. And if you do fail you are young enough not to let it destroy you, just get up and try again.
2. Endless Creativity- As creatives, we have learned that creativity came much easier when we were young. We could sit up all night dreaming and scheming and designing the business of our dreams. We had a million ideas and the energy to carry them out. The one that didn’t work out so well was the S’mores machines we bought, not such a great idea it turns out.
3. Living on the cheap is easy- When we started our first business we rented a really crappy house, slept on a futon and survived on $25k/ year and thought we were rolling in it. In the beginning there were times that we didn’t have enough money in our account to get a pay check so we dug through our couch cushions looking for change so we could get dinner at Taco Bell. Yes, it was not ideal, but we really didn’t know anyone that was much better off than we were and we were having so much fun that we didn’t notice. Plus Taco Bell is waaaay yummy.
1. Newbies- We didn’t have enough work/life experience to make some tough decisions. For example, we wanted to pay our staff what we believed was a fair wage. We knew what it was like to be overworked and underpaid and we didn’t want to be that type of owner. We didn’t realize that meant cutting into our profits and for a start up, a staff is a huge expense. We quickly realized that we couldn’t keep doing things that way and so we were unable to offer raises etc. that is typical with a job.
2. Where is the owner?- We got that question a lot. No one takes you seriously when you are a young entrepreneur. We had a contractor that thought he could rip us off since we were too young to know any better. And most of the time when sales reps came in they didn’t want to believe that we were the owners. But secretly I loved the look on their faces when they asked for the owner and I said “You’re lookin’ at her”. It’s what I refer to as my “shock and awe” campaign.
3. Human Resources- This was the hardest for me. Dealing with all the issues that come with running a staff. Hiring, firing, training, legal issues, payroll etc. etc. I found that discipline was the hardest because I was younger than most of my staff and I made the mistake of hiring all my friends. I had to tell my 50 year old manager when he was doing something that I didn’t like and then tell one of my best friends that they were fired. I can’t tell you how many nights I stayed awake trying to figure out how to confront people. Luckily my dad is corporate HR guy and he could talk me off the ledge. :-) My advice is to hire someone to help with all the paperwork and legal stuff and get some advisors for the rest.
We love being young entrepreneurs. Definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone that has trouble making quick decisions but if you really have the passion and the people skills I think its a perfect way to make a living. Get advice from people who have done it, get sleep when you can and keep that positive outlook.