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8 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 22

| January 9, 2012 | 68 Comments

A couple weeks ago I met with two young entrepreneurs who had asked me for some advice. They were passionate, driven, highly intelligent and extremely focused. During the course of our hour-long conversation, it struck me that despite the attributes listed above, their questions, attitudes and strategies almost perfectly mirrored my own from six years ago. It brought back a flood of memories about the lessons I’ve learned (some the hard way).

Here’s what I wish I had known at age 22:

  1. Know what you don’t know. At 22, I didn’t know shit. I could recite Shakespeare, construct a balance sheet, and crank out 15-page term papers in an afternoon on almost any topic you gave me, but I was ill-prepared for the real world. I thought I knew it all and didn’t need anyone’s advice or help. Big mistake.
  1. Being busy destroys your value. I used to pride myself on the amount of “stuff” I’d do. I was constantly meeting with someone and working on something. I felt extremely productive. How could I not be successful when I did so much? Unfortunately when I looked back on what I’d accomplished, it amounted to very little. Although I continue to fall back into cycles of busyness, I know a key ingredient in the recipe for success: “make haste slowly.”
  1. Nothing complicated ever works out. I’ve crafted a lifetime of reseller agreements, highly complex employment incentives, partnerships, and intricate business plans. None of them have been successful. Success has come from simple plans, defined roles and clear expectations. For every added layer of complication, you’ve exponentially increased your chances of failure.
  1. Treat everyone well. This means you should A) give people the benefit of the doubt; B) be transparent; C) never step on someone to step up; D) refrain from talking crap on anyone. We only see the surface layer of peoples’ lives. Beneath that layer lies heartache, anxiety and baggage that causes some unfortunate actions from time-to-time. Understand that when you ask someone, “how’s life?” you’re almost always going to get the answer “things are good.” That doesn’t mean all is good.
  1. Specialize to win. Saying you do everything is a joke that everyone gets but you. You’re not good at everything. In fact, you’re not good at most things. You’re probably excellent at one or two things. By specializing, you’ll gain credibility, focus and the right kind of business. You’ll become a go-to resource, instead of always having to hunt and kill.
  1. “Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.” Seth Godin says it perfectly. Life is not about gutting out every situation. It’s about identifying opportunity and a lack thereof. If your pride is all that is standing in the way of quitting, quit. The right people won’t care and the wrong people don’t matter. If you know you’re on the right path, persevere though the pain. It will be worth it.
  1. Profits matter. Fast growth is exciting. Creating large and growing revenues feels great. But none of it matters if you can’t turn a profit. Profits create stability and durability. Profits keep people paid and allow for focus. If your intentions are not to immediately create profits, ask yourself why.
  1. Service based businesses suck for young entrepreneurs. You’ll struggle with the same challenges of scalability, client whims and a constant squeeze on margins. But, you’ll also have the added problem of perceived or actual expertise. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to become excellent at a service. Intelligence and a robust education don’t make you an expert. Unlike products, services are judged on their history of success. As a young entrepreneur, you won’t have a history of success. That makes it tough to convince people to buy your service. I highly recommend that young entrepreneurs make products first, then develop service-based businesses later (if they so choose).

Brent Beshore is the CEO of AdVentures ranked #28 on the 2011 Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S.

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  • http://mikemonty.net Michael Montgomery

    Excellent advice! I need to print this out and stick it on my wall next to the computer…

  • http://twitter.com/wordsbyjane Words By Jane

    This post is nice short and full of value. Thanks for sharing your lessons. I’m at that point where I needed to hear this!

  • http://twitter.com/WannaBMarketing Erica Roberts

    This is amazing advice! Something I will most definitely refer back to and share with other friends. Thank you for posting. 

    - Erica, YouTern social media intern
    http://www.youtern.com/thesavvyintern

  • http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-LinkedIn-Marketing-ebook/dp/B006FODZOS/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_3 Jason Baudendistel

    This is such an amazing article great stuff :)

  • http://twitter.com/lynchmr Mark Lynch

    Love the point about treating people right. Sounds simple but too few people make the effort to do it. But I do believe there is a line, not everyone is 

  • Heirloominc Pr

    Number 2 and number 5 applies to me. Thank you. Really needed to read this. (Today especially)

  • Heirloominc Pr

    Number 2 and number 5 applies to me. Thank you. Really needed to read this. (Today especially)

  • http://twitter.com/BartGrootveld Bart Grootveld

    Being 22, it may not be too late! Thank you for your advice! :)
    Bart

  • http://twitter.com/BartGrootveld Bart Grootveld

    Being 22, it may not be too late! Thank you for your advice! :)
    Bart

  • Brent Beshore

    You’re welcome Bart. Hope it helped in some small way. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    I’ve found those are two critical ones for business success. Both are somewhat counterintuitive, but amazingly valuable. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Mark: The only place I’ve found the “jack of all trades” mentality to work well is at cocktail parties, but I’m sure it’s got value elsewhere. Can you post a couple links to articles that advocate for it? Would love to read. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks Jason! Glad you enjoyed it. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks Erica!

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Glad I could help give you some guidance and advice when you needed it. Cheers to a productive and happy New Year. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks Michael. Glad you enjoyed it. 

  • http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-LinkedIn-Marketing-ebook/dp/B006FODZOS/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_3 Jason Baudendistel

    Mark my second company failed because I tried to be everything to everyone so I can speak from experience whatever your strengths are grow your company around that niche or niches and target your efforts.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Brent you’re the man– this article is amazing.  Lets do an interview for the site soon.  Will reach out to Kelsey.  Thanks for writing and reminding people (including me) that being busy is the worse thing ever.

  • http://julwilson83.wordpress.com/ Julia Wilson

    Thanks for this advice! I am 22 and I’m not an entrepreneur at the moment, but I am on the job hunt and I think a lot of these steps are still very helpful. Thanks for sharing your learned lessons with us.

  • http://twitter.com/Daveonearth David Bowman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z9WVZddH9w In a monetary system, democracy is an illusion perpetuated to give the populace a feeling of participation in a so-called democratic process.

  • http://twitter.com/errrrrrrrika Erika Fernandez

    I LOVE this article.  Gave me so much insight on the way I think as a young entrepeneur.  You hit the nail on the head.

    Erika 
    http://www.PeerReliance.com/blog

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks Erika. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    I think entrepreneurship is a mindset and not an act. It’s about innovation and creation. I work with tons of entrepreneurs who don’t own their company. Sounds like you’re coming at it from a great angle. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Ha. You’re welcome Matt. Would love to do an interview. I have to remind myself daily not to be busy. 80% of the time I fail miserably. 

  • http://twitter.com/SeekVest SeekVest

    I disagree with number 8. It doesn’t matter what age you are to provide a service, just ask all the internet-based businesses that derive their income through providing a service and generating profits via advertising or even through genuine paid-for services. I think may instead apply to number 8 is actually not having a robust and experienced team to carry out your service efficiently, even if you aren’t an expert yourself. This is my viewpoint though.

  • http://thepeachdesign.com/ Peachanan Rojwongsuriya

    Thanks for this article! Some of the points you mentioned, I am currently experiencing. :) Thanks for shedding lights on those bad behaviors. 

    This is an excellent post that I will recommend for anyone who’s starting out to read it. :)

  • http://www.i95dev.com/ecommerce-magento Henry Louis

    I like your way of presentation about different things to be known to entrepreneurs. I agree with many points that you have mentioned here. I hope it would give some better idea in getting good growth in the business.

  • http://twitter.com/AnthonyAttan Anthony Attan

    Great list.  I’m a young leadership development coach and this list still very much applies to me.  Your first one – “Know what you don’t know” reminds me of first time I spoke in front of a group of business leaders a few years ago.  Fresh out of college with a degree in industrial/organizational psychology I thought I knew everything.  Well that day, in front of those biz leaders, I got a big dose of humble pie and to this day I think it was one of the best lessons I have ever learned.  Thanks for a great post!

  • Sidossou

    This is such a simple yet great post. Could I please share this with our readers on our Entrepreneur Section of http://www.theservicemag.com

  • Sidossou

    Great Post

  • http://twitter.com/travisbaird07 Travis Baird

    I disagree with #8  I think you have to take on the struggle at a young age and be patient it takes time to build a reputable service business yes!!

  • KevinAsuncion

    I always enjoy these types of post. One of the questions I like to ask people who have succeeded in their field what they wish they knew when they were younger or when they first started out.  #6 is great, knowing when to quit and when to perserve is a tough thing to get right. Thanks for the post Brent.  

  • H0k13

    “Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.”
    Seth Godin says it perfectly. Life is not about gutting out every
    situation. It’s about identifying opportunity and a lack thereof. If
    your pride is all that is standing in the way of quitting, quit. The
    right people won’t care and the wrong people don’t matter. If you know
    you’re on the right path, persevere though the pain. It will be worth
    it.

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thank Kevin. For me, #6 is the toughest one to actually put into practice. Not only do fears of embarrassment creep in, but there’s always a residue of hope begging you not to give in, no matter how dire or obvious the situation has become. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thank Kevin. For me, #6 is the toughest one to actually put into practice. Not only do fears of embarrassment creep in, but there’s always a residue of hope begging you not to give in, no matter how dire or obvious the situation has become. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks for disagreeing. I love being challenged and as my wife tells me constantly, I’m wrong approximately 80% of the time. 

    Regardless of age or stage, a great way to find success is utilizing your advantages and minimizing your weaknesses. As a young person there’s an inherent lack of history and an even bigger perceived lack of history. For service based businesses, past performance is the single largest determining factor in selecting a provider because you (and your systems…and your support people) are the product.

    A product-based business is much different. No one argued that Facebook was not worthy of being utilized because the creator wasn’t 55 years old with a solid history of creating communications web applications. That would have been foolish, because the product is what it is. It’s promise of performance starts and ends with the software, not the people behind it. 

    Therefore if I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen to build product first, then services later. 

    On a side note, much of how you build your business should be determined by your goals. If you want to take on less risk and make a consistent but lower income, then service based businesses are probably the better option. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I’m not ripping on anyone who starts or owns a service based business. In fact, I own five of them. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Thanks for your comments. See my comments above to Travis. I’d love to have you chime in. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Really appreciate it Peachanan. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Great comment Anthony. We’ve all been there. In fact, I think I could fill a book with all the times I had my perspective tweaked. The best thing you can do is just constantly learn with an attitude of humbleness. Sounds like you’re on a great track. 

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  • http://twitter.com/EntreprenKorner EntrepreneursKorner

    Nice post, Just found this site and it is awesome so far. your right that it is hard for young entrepreneurs, as they have to prove themselves more than those that have years of experience. 

    - Lee
    http://www.EntrepreneursKorner.com

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  • http://twitter.com/saraschoonover Sara Nicole

    Great article! I laughed at #8 “Service based businesses suck for young entrepreneurs” because I agree. He said, “you’ll also have the added problem of perceived or actual expertise,” and it’s true. Being a young VP of a legal company undoubtedly begs the question “Oh! So you must have gone to law school?” ….and I didn’t. Although I certainly have learned a lot about traffic law, I’m no expert. Not being an expert at something doesn’t mean you can’t be an entrepreneur in that field. Our success has been about finding the true experts, putting together a great team, and focusing on company growth and the stuff we are experts on, like customer service and management.

    -Sara Schoonover of TicketKick http://www.ticketkick.com

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  • Guest

    SeekVest – I absolutely agree.  Having people (consultants/employees) that are very experienced in providing the specific service acting as your wing men, is a way to get past this.  Let the company name and storefront speak for itself, not necessarily your resume.  

  • http://www.completevb.com/ Matt Price

    Not a fan of this post at all. #6, 7, 8 are incorrect thoughts to preach. Starting with your comment about sticking only to the right stuff. Young entrepreneurs really should get their hands into everything that interests them and experiment. Focusing on a niche that just makes money is a sure way to become a bad business man.

    Profits matter, yes… but value is more important. Focusing on $ value shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of brainstorming to say “Hey, this will work… now lets build it and see.” Why spend days and days figuring out how something will “probably” perform. BS. It will not work how you plan anyway so just start it and tweak later.

    Finally, your last point #8 is so wrong I don’t know where to begin. The most common way young entrepeneurs are successfully creating value is through the internet. It gives them a even playing field. For me, it was for web design services. Nearly everyone of my younger clients talks about how they started with a specific skill (usually web service related to SEO, design, coding, etc). I also own a product-based business and it is much easier to manage my services business because it is something I am more passionate about because it is my creation. My point is services are more common than product based successful start ups for young entrepreneurs, hands down.

  • http://www.completevb.com/ Matt Price

    Not a fan of this post at all. #6, 7, 8 are incorrect thoughts to preach. Starting with your comment about sticking only to the right stuff. Young entrepreneurs really should get their hands into everything that interests them and experiment. Focusing on a niche that just makes money is a sure way to become a bad business man.

    Profits matter, yes… but value is more important. Focusing on $ value shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of brainstorming to say “Hey, this will work… now lets build it and see.” Why spend days and days figuring out how something will “probably” perform. BS. It will not work how you plan anyway so just start it and tweak later.

    Finally, your last point #8 is so wrong I don’t know where to begin. The most common way young entrepeneurs are successfully creating value is through the internet. It gives them a even playing field. For me, it was for web design services. Nearly everyone of my younger clients talks about how they started with a specific skill (usually web service related to SEO, design, coding, etc). I also own a product-based business and it is much easier to manage my services business because it is something I am more passionate about because it is my creation. My point is services are more common than product based successful start ups for young entrepreneurs, hands down.

  • http://twitter.com/BenjaminHoppe99 Benjamin Hoppe

    7 and 8 particularly resound with me. Providing a service in the traditional sense is of course garbage.  If you’re providing a service of, say, seo consulting I think it can be a pretty profitable endeavor. 

  • Ben

    I’m sorry to say, but I thing this is a poor and misguided list. Based on the facts in this post, you are only 28 and write as if you have gained all the experience you need, in a mere six years. You still have a lot to learn, and here’s some feedback.

    “Nothing Complicated Ever Works” – try telling that to Andrew Wiles – who proved of Fermat’s Last Theorem. I agree that simple is a good start,and I do like to trim off the fat where possible. But I wouldn’t never put a total roadblock on things becoming complicated for the sake of simplicity.
    “Being busy destroys your value” – Based on your description, you were doing a lot of things, you felt productive, but accomplished nothing? Your solution of making haste slowly says nothing.Busy is good. What are you trying to say here? Work less hours? Work more productively? It’s confusing.

    “Specialize to win” – Big NO on this one. Everyone needs to be adaptable to some degree. Specializing means you are 100% reliant on the thing you specialize in. Economies change, and with that businesses change focus to compete and your specialization may well become redundant. You are also closing the book on learning things outside your field and bringing in a different thought process and experience.

    “Service based businesses suck for young entrepreneurs.” – Disagree, again. Service based businesses give young people the opportunity to showcase themselves to a business and its clients alike. You still sound like the 22 year old who went in to a service company with a good education and an air of entitlement, who wasn’t given the corner office in the first 2 months. Your conclusion: “make products”.. Really.. 

    You’re still young. You still don’t know what you don’t know.

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Matt: Thanks for your comments. I think perhaps you misinterpreted a few of my statements, because I agree with a lot of what you said. 

    I too believe that entrepreneurs should experiment. In fact, I’ve never seen an entrepreneur who’s gotten it right on the first try in the exact way he imagined it. With that experimentation usually comes many challenges. The point of #6 is to be intentional with your efforts; constantly be evaluating the current status of the business and how it projects into the future. If the future looks bright and the pain is temporary, gut it out. But if not, don’t stick with it just so you’re not a “quiter.” 

    As for #7, I wasn’t referring to a pre-launch business. The point is that people get obsessed with head count and revenue growth. While both of those stats mean something, neither create the stability or long-term success of profit. 

    Are service-based startups more common? Absolutely. That doesn’t make them a more attractive option. I agree that many people get their start in delivering a service. To learn about the market, hone skills and formulate a startup opportunity, providing a service can be a great option. But, if you’re talking about building a startup (creating jobs for others) a service-based business is extremely difficult to scale (over $5M in 3 years) and will be more challenging for young entrepreneurs. 

  • http://twitter.com/BrentBeshore Brent Beshore

    Ben: Thanks for taking the time to point out where you disagree. 

    I am 28 and will be the first one to say that I don’t have it figured out. In fact, I was just talking with a good friend of mine who is in his late sixties and has been wildly successful in business about this very subject. He said he still doesn’t have it all figured out, which is what makes life exciting.

    Simplicity (#3): Obviously there will be exceptions that necessitate a lack of simplicity. As a business grows the complexity of it grows exponentially. That wasn’t the point. I used to make things more complicated than they needed to be because I wanted to account for every possible outcome and leave no opportunity unexplored to its fullest. I see others (especially younger entrepreneurs) do the same. Clarity creates value and is extremely tough to achieve when situations are highly complex. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but more of a guidance that I try to employ when evaluating a situation. 

    Being Busy (#2): I was trying to get at a couple issues here. One is that being busy does not equal being valuable. The other is that there is a danger in busyness that actually prevents one from being productive. Productivity comes from intentional and thoughtful action. “Make haste slowly” was my way of saying slow down a little and think through daily action. I’ve never heard anyone advocate for the opposite. 

    Specialization (#5): We may just fundamentally disagree on this point. The platitude that comes to mind is “the master of all is the master of none.” Excellence receives a disproportionate share of value. It takes tremendous effort, time and critical thinking to be excellent at something. That is specialization. Contrary to your assertion, adaptability is a key component in specialization. By immersing yourself in an area, you’re able to see trends and market forces far sooner and more clearly, allowing you to react accordingly. Specialization doesn’t foreclose learning outside of your area of expertise. From my experience, the drive towards excellence actually encourages a wide range of experiences that can be adapted to the person’s specialty. 

    Service Based Businesses (#8): Always good to know when I sound like a little spoiled brat. Thanks for pointing it out. Yes, service based businesses can showcase a young person’s skills. So can singing on a street corner. That doesn’t make it the best path to success. Young entrepreneurs have additional roadblocks to success in service based businesses based on perception and an actual lack of experience (time investment). The point of sites like Under30CEO are to help people become successful. The underlying assumption is that everyone defines success the same way. If making a consistent income through the selling of time is your definition of success, then a service based business is your ticket. If you want to launch a high-growth and highly profitable startup, a service-based business is likely not the best path. Ultimately it comes down to what people want out of their business.

    I find it intriguing that you repeatedly highlight my age, which as you suggest (not subtly) means I don’t know what I’m talking about. The title of my article originated from the fact that I thought differently at 22 and wanted to share how my experiences have altered my view. This doesn’t mean that someone at 22 (or 28) doesn’t have a valid point of view or something of value to add. Everyone, regardless of age, have something to contribute. I’ve found that people who choose to dismiss others because of age (or race, or sex, or religion) are fundamentally insecure about their own abilities and self-worth. 

  • http://www.millionairementorsacces.com/ Shaun – Millionaire Mentors

    You’ve had quite a few people disagree with you already and I too disagree with you on some of the points to some degree. That being said, I’m not going to knit-pick at them.

    I simply want to add to this list by saying being clear on your outcome and know what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it. 

    Otherwise, great post.

  • Jdee415

    Words of wisdom simply put. Take it or leave you all chose to continue reading.

  • Jdee415

    Words of wisdom simply put. Take it or leave you all chose to continue reading.

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  • http://CarlaJGardiner.com/ Carla J Gardiner

    Wow, as an aging baby-boomer I thought … what can a young whipper-snapper teach me that I don’t already know? Well, you taught me that I am no better than you were at 22! I learned that business is a great equalizer, it plays no favorites. I learned that no matter our age it takes great focus, guts and fortitude to not quit…to sum it up, I learned a lot from you youngster…thank you.

  • http://www.apptegic.com/ Ryan Connors

    Hey I’m 22 (takes notes) !

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