As three Millennial entrepreneurs discussed financial challenges and lessons learned from their own successful careers, a common theme emerged: Invest in yourself.
It’s unsurprising, considering they represent a generation defined by swelling student debt, financial turmoil, and an uncertain future. Your own competence, they’ve learned, is one of the few things you can count on.
Mogul founder Tiffany Pham, Tessemae’s All Natural founder Greg Vetter, and Lauren Maillian, a serial entrepreneur and investor who co-hosts the TV show “Quit Your Day Job,” addressed a crowd of about 60 at the Impact Hub in Seattle on Thursday.
The Town Hall was part of Millennial Weekend — Seattle’s abridged version of Millennial Week — an event series founded in Washington D.C. This is the first year Millennial Week events are taking place in Seattle and Denver, in addition to D.C.
Millennial Week was founded by Natalie Moss, a cancer biologist and entrepreneur with a passion for dispelling misconceptions about her generation.
“Simply put, the Millennial generation is polarizing,” she said. “While Millennials are innovators in a number of realms, we’re still very much plagued by stereotype. Millennial Week was launched as a way to explore the positive impact of the generation in entrepreneurship, innovation, and civic engagement.”
Though the Town Hall had a promotional vibe (speakers frequently plugged the event’s sponsor, Prudential) lessons about investing in yourself and your company seemed to resonate with the crowd.
For Vetter, that lesson is practically religion.
“Everything that I have, everything that I had, is all bet right now on me and Tessemae’s. … When we started the company I took 25 credit cards out to pay for it and they were all maxed out. That’s a part of the journey. All these people think about starting a business and the financial planning aspect — you also have to succeed in some way, shape, or form,” he said.
Tessemae’s is succeeding. It has become the top-selling fresh condiment company in Whole Foods, Safeway, and Costco since Vetter launched five years ago. Still, success doesn’t always look the way you expected it would.
“My credit score is probably that of a homeless person’s,” he said.
Pham is no stranger to debt but her albatross takes the shape of hefty student loans. Despite an illustrious career, she still faced a big financial obstacle when she was ready to launch Mogul, a platform for working women to exchange ideas and resources.
“I had a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt, in student loans, so if I didn’t have those millions of dollars to hire a team of engineers then how could I make a difference myself? Maybe I could just teach myself how to code and build this platform myself.”
She continued working several day jobs while teaching herself to code at night, investing her time and resources into her entrepreneurial vision.
“I invest where it’s really important right now, so every dollar goes into Mogul,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, I suppose, you do take a lot of risk personally. I started Mogul with just $200 because I had so few dollars to attribute to the business. I had student loans but I really wanted to start this. I took on those other jobs. I put in as much money on my own as I could, which was very little, and just continued to hustle.”
Maillian had a head start when it came to financial literacy. She began modeling as a child, getting a basic understanding of money management before founding a winery at 19. Those experiences informed her decision to attend a state university and skip student loans. She’s launched several companies and became the first black woman to start a venture capital fund.
Her advice for becoming a successful young entrepreneur: “Always be prepared to outwork everyone else.”
Work ethic was another common thread during the panel. All three speakers touted the importance of investing time and money now to see returns later in life.
“I don’t believe in balance, honestly,” said Maillian. “I have an entire chapter in my book called ‘Work-life Integration’ because I don’t think that balance exists.”
Vetter and Pham echoed that sentiment. They’d rather hustle now and save travel and leisure for the decades to come.