You’ve heard the stereotypes: Millennials are entitled, narcissistic, and lazy. They are the Instagram junkie, selfie-taking, “Me! Me! Me!” generation, as Time Magazine put it.
Yet while Boomers and Generation X struggle to adapt to the millennial mindset in the workplace, members of this new generation are carving their own paths as entrepreneurs – which is a good thing considering college graduates today face a tough job market and unprecedented levels of student debt.
No generation before has had as much technological understanding and access to technological power as the Millennials. Unlike the rest of us, Millennials never had to adapt to the digital revolution or know a world without the Internet. They naturally prefer to look at the tougher issues that require creativity and innovation.
This distinction offers several advantages for the tech entrepreneur. First, Millennials’ innate connection with all things web and mobile gives them a unique edge in some of today’s hottest start-up areas like 3D printing, drones, machine learning, mobile apps, and e-commerce. You need great product instincts to succeed in these areas, and no one has a more intuitive understanding of the digital world than the Millennial generation.
The differences run even deeper than just an understanding of technology. Unlike prior generations, who chose company loyalty as the route to success, Millennials look towards innovative ideas and their ability to see them through for professional success. The Deloitte Millennial leadership study found that only 20 percent of global Millennials aspire to senior leadership in a large organization, while 70 percent want to launch their own start-up.
Millennials are also coming of age at a time when starting a technology business is more accessible than ever. In the past, everything from prototyping to sales, advertising, and distribution required a major capital investment. Today, SaaS start-ups can get off the ground without a physical office, sales team, or costly ad campaign. Innovations like 3D printing and Raspberry Pi are even bringing down the costs for prototyping and launching hardware projects. Unlike before, it is possible today to start a serious tech company without landing an investment or maxing out the credit cards.
While today’s media reports tend to glamorize the start-up culture, billion dollar exits, VC money, and getting rich, the reality for Millennials is that running a start-up is much harder than it looks – even if you have secured a multi-million dollar round.
Even though Millennials have the advantage of technological and web know-how, and they possess the drive to start something of their own, there is quite a bit they still have to learn about being entrepreneurs and launching their own start-ups.
As a start-up founder with a successful exit and now investor, I can offer some essential advice to any millennial thinking about launching his or her own start-up. Here are my five tips.
• Pick something you love: Building a start-up is typically a 7-10 year affair, so it’s critical to pick an area that you want to work in for the long haul. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who pick a problem that they’re passionate about solving.
• Learn how to code: You don’t necessarily need to become a full-stack developer, but even a basic understanding of coding will help you be closer to the product you are making.
• Start small: Before you think about launching a start-up, you should dabble in side projects to learn more about the areas you are interested in. For example, you can start a blog that explores a particular technology area; you can build a mobile app; or start a hardware project using an Arduino kit, sensor, or PCB kit. The goal isn’t to monetize what you make, but to gain experience and exposure to your potential future focus.
• Work for a smaller company: Launching a business right out of college can be challenging for numerous reasons. By working for another start-up, you can gain exposure to many different aspects of building and running a business. Unlike working for a large corporation where employees tend to get pigeon-holed in specific functions, start-ups will allow you to learn the ropes and wear many, many different hats.
• Dive in: Aspiring entrepreneurs often try to wait until both personal and market conditions are just right. However, there will never be an absolutely perfect time to launch a business. Sometimes, you just need to take a deep breath and dive in.
Boris Wertz is the founder of Version One Ventures, and has invested in over 50 early-stage consumer and enterprise companies, including Dwellable, Flurry, Frontdesk, Indiegogo, Julep and Wattpad. Follow him on his blog and on Twitter @bwertz.