6 Essential Tips for a Young Entrepreneur : Under30CEO 6 Essential Tips for a Young Entrepreneur : Under30CEO
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6 Essential Tips for a Young Entrepreneur

| January 10, 2011 | 10 Comments

If I could write a letter to my nine-year-old self what would it say? Maybe I would have skipped the year in private art school ($30,000 before interest) and opted for a year apprenticeship in Venice (which in theory would have made me money). More importantly where would I be? I am 27 and the executive director of a successful non-profit environmental consulting firm. After 5 years of blood, sweat, tears we have a functional board, and have worked with other non-profits throughout Oregon conducting watershed assessments and endangered species habitat restoration planning. I was fortunate to have an amazing partner but the drive I needed to keep doing it, day in day out was more than I was prepared for, financially and mentally. I wouldn’t change anything, even though I went into debt to start the business, because I am happy with what I am doing and so too are my partners and clients.

But for the sake of argument and for the sake of helping others faced with the same options I was, I would give my nine-year-old self the following advice:

Study at community college

Although the education I received at Otis and OSU was amazing, there are a lot of other things I could do for $60,000. I didn’t really even know what I wanted to do until I spent a few years doing it. Better to go through the same learning process for a fraction of the cost. After all, you can always go to a prestigious college later, after you have saved for it and after you have done it for a while and know that you are pursuing your real dream. For the really ambitious skip high school and get your GED at 14 or 16 depending on the state you live in. Go to community college and graduate with a degree while most of your friends are just starting college. Of course this is really going to screw with your social skills, which brings me to my second piece of advice…

Get a life!

I have spent so much time being a student, a CEO, a biologist, and a wife that I have lost a bit of myself. I was letting my titles define who I was. Although I wouldn’t go back, I traded my 20s for my business (absolutely worth it but it is a trade that a lot of young entrepreneurs might not be prepared to make). If you like going out with friends and family or any other normal activity it is likely that you will have to put that on hold for a decade or so. I would have accepted a lot more invitations to parties and declined a few more to meetings because you aren’t really going to regret going to a party. I realized that a lot of the things I wanted to do when I was a child that I expected would be possible when I was an adult really would have been easier to do as a kid. Getting a job and using the proceeds to go skydiving is realistic for someone living at home with no expenses.


Really engage in your community. I can’t emphasize how emotionally rewarding it is to do something that helps the cause you believe in. The only way you can help is by finding out what is meaningful to you and getting involved in the community that does that. No matter how much money you make it will never make you whole.

Read and write

Anything, read the comics, read advertisements, read blogs, the newspaper, put the captions on your television. I loved books and always read but I would have read a lot more if I had known how important books were. Write down how you felt about what you read. So many people that come in to environmental science out of college can’t write well. Writing skill is a prerequisite for advancement in almost every field. Get published. You can write a novel in junior high and be published by the time you are 15 so lack of education can’t be an excuse. The only way to become a decent writer is by writing every day. Even if you don’t think you are ever going to get paid to write, you can’t look professional without quality writing skills.

Make real connections

95% of my academic experience at OSU was through email correspondence or video lectures and assigned reading. Although I learned a lot this way, I don’t have a huge group of professors that know me well. This is a big detriment. On the other hand I had a very hands-on personal instruction at Otis and am still connected with several professors there (although I don’t have enough time to keep up with them as I would like). These are the people that can help you find work, leads, clients, etc. Let them help you. Make it easy for them to help you. Give them a good reason to want to help you.

Finally expect to have to do it forever and if that scares you don’t

I would emphasize this last point to nine-year-old self because most things I want to do only hold my interest for a few weeks. I would have saved a lot of money following this advice. Most start-up businesses aren’t going to have so much success that the owners will make a profit selling it 3 years after the doors open. When you start a venture, expect to be doing it for 10 years at least. If you don’t have that kind of dedication than consider something else. Although for those that enjoy risk, starting a business with the expectation of selling after the first year can have high rewards but can come with a financial burden that can take a toll on everything you own and at worst, your family. With my own business I knew I wanted to work in the environmental research field with my husband and business partner and I wanted to tele-commute. A self-made position was and remains the only option. The most important reason though is a dedication to the people you are working for. When a group that we have worked with has a question regarding our products, I want to be there in 10 years to answer them. I have dedication to my business and that is part of why it is successful.

A more interesting letter might be the one I would write to myself now when I am 40. I can’t imagine what it would say, probably something along the lines of ‘relax and enjoy life’… I hope.

Cara Mico is the Executive Director at Demeter Design, an environmental non-profit dedicated to providing environmental research services to land managers throughout the western United States.

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Category: Startup Advice

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  • lakshmi

    Gr8 tips for young entrepreneurs. Right from study at community college to expect to do it , was really great. These will help young entrepreneurs like us to do better in our field and stay in business for a longer period of time.
    Keep posting articles like this so that we can accomplish our goals.
    Thank you

  • http://sydneyowen.com Sydney Owen

    Great post, really. And I’d argue that these points are valid for the Under-30-Corporate-Workaholics. I could have definitely used this article around this time last year when I was head-down, going balls out at my first agency job.

    But, the skydiver in me just has to call you out. ;)

    “Getting a job and using the proceeds to go skydiving is realistic for someone living at home with no expenses.”

    So far beyond true I could stick a fork in my eyeballs. I’m assuming you weren’t totally serious and this is more metaphorical for the “get a life” bit – but in the event it isn’t, it’s my duty to tell you that you too, Mr. CEO, can go skydiving. :)

    Great tips, thanks for a solid list!

  • http://twitter.com/h4more Dubem Menakaya

    great tips, will definitely take them on board. I think the key point to them is that they highlight the need to find the right balance, in work, social life and in education.

  • http://twitter.com/h4more Dubem Menakaya

    great tips, will definitely take them on board. I think the key point to them is that they highlight the need to find the right balance, in work, social life and in education.

  • http://CheapSites.com Dan / CheapSites.com

    Cara, these are some real tips! Definitely not your usual “do this because I think it works” – I love it. One thing I have to comment about though if your first suggestion on skipping the private school to save money.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and those lessons were obvious once the time to do that was past.Anyway, awesome article.


  • http://twitter.com/peachananr Peach

    This is some great tips you’ve given there. One of the point i agree most is that READING is essential. In order to know what you like and begin doing, you must read whether it’s news, blog posts, fiction… everything you read will help to determine yourself and assist you in finding an opportunity to spoil.

    Making real connection is definitely hard in such a world we are living in now, but this is something I’ll try to do more of.

    Thanks for sharing such a great tips.

  • Anonymous

    Great post. I agree with a lot of the tips, especially the one about making connections. Creating an extensive network that spans all generations, industries, and cultures is essential to being successful. However, I think the first tip about going to community college undercuts this tip. I went a relatively prestigious universities and the connections I made there still benefit me. While going to a community college makes sense economically, I think you still miss out on a big part of the networking in a traditional univeristy. I think a good compromise is to do general classes at a community college and then transfer to a 4 year university.

  • http://twitter.com/ddigangi Daniel DiGangi

    I like your tips but the only one I disagree with is your last tip, I don’t think that I am considered ‘undedicated’ for leaving my start ups. If you are unsuccessful then I understand but even then I look at it as let’s do this project a few years and move onto the next. I would hate to get stuck in the same project for 10+ years unless it was something that had some real value whether it is physical or internal.

  • http://www.creditguard.org/debt_management_program.html Debt Management Program

    Interesting tips and I agree with all these tips discussed into this article. But most young internet marketers are inclined to read success stories and accept as factual they could achieves this effortlessly too but it takes hard work. And I think these tips get your hope too high