Thanks to The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg has become a controversial figure. From shady IM conversations to mismanaging fellow co-founders, the young entrepreneur has made quite a few mistakes throughout his career.
Is he a jerk, or is he like every other immature teenager? How do other teens handle the pressure of starting a company at such a young age with such little experience?
Despite ultimate success, many young entrepreneurs make a lot of errors along the way. Perhaps it’s a lack of maturity, confidence, or career experience.
Last week we spoke with Nick Tart, co-author of 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs, What It Takes To Make More Than Your Parents, about what makes some young people so successful.
This week, we asked him what tripped them up. After interviewing 25 kids between the ages of 12 and 23 that make more money than their parents, Tart shares seven ways age hurt eager entrepreneurs.
Children grow up listening to authority; it's a habit that isn't easily broken. King Sidharth is a successful eighteen-year-old entrepreneur from India. Where he's from, listening to elders is mandatory and following your gut is frowned upon. Initially, this internal dilemma inhibited his business execution.
Even Tart recalls the pressure to conform to the opinion of others. 'When I was a junior or senior in high school, I had an idea: Mandles,' he says. 'They were candles that would have manly scents, like hot sauce and fire.'
Tart set off to make his Mandles, buying wax and mixing it with Tabasco until he came up with some truly foul-smelling creations. Even though he thought it was brilliant, his idea met criticism from loved ones. 'My friends and family all told me how stupid the idea was.'
Disheartened, Tart let his idea go, only to read about someone else pursuing the exact same thing years later on CNN. 'That guy deserves all the credit, he actually executed. I should have trusted my instincts,' says a regretful Tart.
'Most of the entrepreneurs I interviewed were really excited by the next shiny object,' says Tart. Instead of focusing on one idea and doing it really well, they had a tendency to spread themselves too thin.
Lauren Amarante, the 21-year-old co-founder of World Entrepreneurship Day, suffered from this. She scheduled the first gathering in April 2010 at the United Nations. High-end CEOs from 35 countries were in attendance, and after the smash hit of her event, she was bombarded with invitations and email requests.
'It was difficult for her,' says Tart. 'She was being asked to attend all of these great events all over the world, but it was pulling her away from her own goals.' Once Amarante started declining requests, she saw her business take off again. 'Usually, external interest is more distracting than helpful,' says Tart.
In short, teens are bad at prioritizing.
Jacob Cass, a 22-year-old graphic designer, had no problem getting clients because his rates didn't match his skills. Once he made the decision to charge more, Cass was able to weed out weaker clients and keep high-quality business. It enabled him to focus more on the best customers and on his products.
'A lot of young people are more talented than they give themselves credit for,' says Tart. 'Thanks to the internet, where information is only one click away, they are actually more educated than any other generation was at their age.'
Most young entrepreneurs are so focused on executing an idea, that they forget to give it an identity. They don't know or see the value in creating a brand.
Alex Fraiser, 16, created a blog that is now successful. When he first started, he fell into the poor branding trap.
'Fraiser thought, 'I have traffic, I should put up Google ads and make money off it right away,'' says Tart. Soon Fraiser realised that the ugly interface turned off not-yet loyal readers. 'Fraiser realised that putting up the ads conflicted with the site's message and overall design, and it turned readers away. He hadn't taken the time to build their trust.' Fraiser has since removed the ads and vows to keep them down until his site reaches 5,000 visitors per day.
Joe Penna, a 23-year-old YouTube sensation, also learned this lesson the hard way. Penna wasted three years creating flops.
'Penna would put up any video he wanted and hope it did well. There was no structure,' says Tart. Penna found success once he began creating videos that followed a format. 'Eventually, Penna's videos started with an intro, transitioned to a music segment, and closed with a message from Joe. People knew what to expect.'
Penna realised that branding means consistency, which contributes a lot to a user's experience. Now, 1.5 million people watch his videos every week.
Emil Motycka started mowing lawns as a teenager and grew his business until he was personally maxed out. 'He would spend seven hours a day mowing 100 lawns per week,' says Tart. Motycka's inability to trust others hindered his growth.
'It sounds ridiculous not to trust people with such an easy task. It's just mowing a lawn,' says Tart. 'Emil understood the importance of customer service, and he didn't want to ruin his reputation.' Part of his hesitation came from previous issues with friends, but Motycka had to learn who his best workers were and how to hold on to them.
'Your company is your baby,' explains Tart. 'It's like giving your baby to a babysitter for the first time. You want to trust someone else with your child, but it's hard not to worry.'
Young or old, all entrepreneurs wonder what would have happened had they started a company sooner. 'A lot of the kids I interviewed were capable of starting their companies earlier. If they had, they'd be even farther in their careers.'
Juliette Brindak, founder of MissOandFriends.com, is a perfect example. At eleven, she started her company about as early as humanly possible. Eight years later, she received money from Proctor and Gamble, which gave her company a $15 million valuation. This might not have happened if she hadn't started when she did.
'Every year you put off a business is money lost,' Tart astutely observes. 'The earlier you make those inevitable, first-time mistakes, the more successful you will be.'
'From all the half-truths I've read and seen about him,' says Tart, 'Zuckerberg's biggest mistake was not staying within his natural skill set. He's an engineer - I imaging trying to manage hundreds of people is crazy, especially when managing isn't your strength.
'Zuckerberg eventually focused on what he's good at and hired people to do the rest.
'Joe Penna needs to focus on producing quality videos; he's really good at that. He doesn't need to be answering 200 emails. Juliette is just a spokesperson for her company at this point. She's hired other people to run her business so she can focus on her education at Washington University in St. Louis.'
'Zuckerberg could have benefited from stepping aside a little bit,' observes Tart. 'But, mistakes and all, these entrepreneurs are doing what they love. The thrive on it.'
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