If you subscribe to the inspiring articles on this website, chances are you are a member of the millennial generation. I myself am one of them and I must admit it took me some time to get comfortable with the notion of quitting my job, going without a paycheck and risking it all for the dream of starting my own venture, on my own terms. At a recent entrepreneurial pitch competition it was said that ‘Once you meet one entrepreneur, you meet one entrepreneur’. Not all entrepreneurs are alike and you will find that they all look at the world through a different lens. Here is my story.
I was working at a large IT consulting firm during the day while doing my graduate work at night. I found myself looking for that next move in my life, the one that would lead to that next great challenge and in my case it lead me to start Bookend Technology, an E-Learning company that creates web and mobile products to help students better manage and measure their educational achievement. Before I took the leap of faith I asked myself a few tough questions and pondered on the points below that I hope will help others who are on the fence with taking the entrepreneurial leap.
What are you waiting for? One of the most valuable assets the millennial generation has is time. You can make mistakes and take on additional risk when you are young because should you find your venture unsuccessful, you have time to land back on your feet or pivot. Also look at this as an opportunity for personal growth. When you set yourself free into your own destiny it’s quite revealing with what is really important in life.
Failure is not a bad word. If you notice one attribute that many of the other generations hang over our head, it is ‘experience’. I would argue that their experience may be obsolete in today’s technology environment and as the consumerization of technology takes off with high school and college students it will be more important than ever to truly understand what it is that your customer wants. Agility is a startup’s secret weapon against the large bureaucratic corporations.
There has never been a better time to start a business, and the resources out there such as Eric Reis’ ‘Lean Startup’ book and events like Startup Weekend will help you plan for success without breaking the bank, giving you the confidence needed to prevent your company from becoming a statistic. Are you a student? Look for entrepreneurial clubs and organizations around campus. The one I joined at Georgetown has been invaluable to my development as an entrepreneur.
You get out what you put in. Entrepreneurship is not a part time job. I quickly found that juggling corporate work obligations, meetings and multiple ‘weekly forecasts’ with your manager throughout the week prevents you from doing what YOU want to do. Also factor in those who are close to you as they will be an integral part of the journey. I am thankful everyday to have a supportive wife and family. Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame sums up entrepreneurship in one simple sentence when he writes “What it amounts to, economically, is compressing your working life into the smallest possible space. Instead of working at an ordinary rate for 40 years, you work like hell for four”.
How many people have you ran into and when asked how they became successful said, ‘I was in the right place, at the right time’? You can not experience this unless you try, and sometimes with luck and hard work, everything will come together.
Don’t be afraid of big ideas and bigger solutions. Do not feel discouraged when someone says that your idea is crazy or will never work. If you believe in it, that is all that matters and you will find that your passion is contagious. In fact if I had a dollar for every time someone said my business didn’t make any sense, I would have my Series A funding by now (I later found out through experience that I needed to make my messaging more concise, but I learned). Perseverance to adversity is a key trait among entrepreneurs. There was once a smart man named Albert Einstein that said “if at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” It’s OK to be the crazy person who sees the world differently.
More Money More Problems. Ah the ‘F’ word: Funding. Do not take money until you need it. I stood up at a DC Meetup recently and when asked if I had received funding yet I proudly responded that “Mastercard had recently invested in my second round.” Bootstrap as long as you can, you will reap the rewards down the road. Get a product out and test it. If it works, move forward and if you find that customers are looking for something else, be open and willing to change directions.
There has never been a better time to innovate. Timing has always been a key component to entrepreneurial ventures. There have been many well documented innovations that were simply ahead of their time. Today you have a unique mix of economic, cultural, political and technological capabilities that are ripe for innovation. It is no secret that the millennial generation will inherit the issues and problems of previous generations but that gives us a reason to act.
If you look closely there are a variety of awesome startups rising up in the field of health care, energy, agriculture and in the case of my venture, education. Each of these industries have large opportunities and even larger markets if startups can create and innovate at the current pace.
So I ask you again, what are you waiting for? I left a demanding job that sucked every ounce of life I had to give it to breath life into something of my own. Of course I recognize the risk involved with starting a venture but have gained the confidence through outlets like Under30CEO, The Startup America Partnership, Kauffman Foundation and Startup Weekend to know that it is possible to live my dreams…all you have to do is take the first step.
If you think you can change the world you have no excuse but to try!
Todd Cofer is co-founder and CEO of Bookend Technology; a DC based e-learning company that provides tools to manage and measure student achievement. Prior to Bookend, Todd held various roles with Gartner Research & Consulting, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, Red Bull Energy Drink and spent his summers in college interning on Capitol Hill. Todd lives in Arlington VA with his wife, Aimee and their dog Cooper.
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