When I first launched my business I went through the exercise of removing any public-facing dates that could help people determine my age. I felt there was a good chance people would correlate the probability of my success as a founder with how old I was.
But I quickly realized there are plenty of advantages to being a younger founder, including a fresh perspective, boundless energy, and a higher risk tolerance, to name a few. Those qualities are a bigger driver of innovation and are what I believe to be a big reason as to why the 15 founders in the list of the current top 100 richest Americans started their company at an average age of 26.8.
I’m not one to define success as riches, but the founders on that list are proof that age shouldn’t be a deterrent to starting a business. Younger founders definitely experience disadvantages, and for that reason I’m sharing tips that helped me, a first-time female founder who launched a venture-backed startup while in her 20s.
Tip 1: Build a diverse network as early as possible.
You’ll never know who you might need to reach out to and you never know who people in your existing network might know. If you’re still in school, consider ways to build your network through clubs, connections to faculty members and alumni, and most importantly, friends in different programs. You might have 100 friends in your business school, but what happens when you need someone to help you code and launch your genius new platform idea?
Diversifying the skillsets in your network is key, and this applies if you’re in the workforce, too. Have a key connection in every department, from sales to engineering, and beyond. There have been times when I needed help with a Facebook campaign or with matters related to sales tax, and I was able to reach out to ex-colleagues in the areas of digital marketing and finance, respectively, that were super gracious with their time and saved me from a big headache.
Tip 2: Cold outreach can open doors.
Don’t be afraid of cold outreach, as it can actually work incredibly well when doing things like a) filling gaps in your network, b) sales, or c) fundraising.
Most notably, LinkedIn and Twitter have worked wonders for me. I have personally dished out way more messages than I’ve received myself, and LinkedIn is still our largest sales channel. Thoughtful, unique inbound messages are often answered. I’m always willing to reply to personally crafted messages and will sometimes make time in my calendar for a brief call if I think there is tangible value I can offer to the person reaching out.
Have a clear ask or set of questions that the person you’re reaching out to can offer their advice on. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that people will want to help you or hear your sales pitch.
Tip 3: Have a personal growth mindset.
One of my favorite sayings is the Japanese term ‘kaizen’ meaning ‘constant improvement.’ There is always something to learn from someone else. Your knowledge in a subject can always be refined, so be open to others’ opinions and let people challenge your thinking.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s always easier to critique something than it is to come up with a solution on your own, so be deliberate about who you ask for advice and also know there is certainly a point at which you could hit feedback fatigue. Carefully consider who you take advice from and how their experience is relevant to your business or the task/problem at hand.
Tip 4: Just start.
Someone I personally look up to, Michele Romanow, says it better than anyone: start right now. We often think we have to climb the corporate ladder or get years of industry experience before we take the leap to starting a business. But the sooner you start the faster you’ll get feedback from the market and iterate on your business idea.
Rarely ever does an entrepreneur have an idea that lasts the company’s lifetime. Many businesses pivot with customer feedback, as was the case with my company, Caribou. Your job as an entrepreneur is to learn as fast as you can, and it’s never too early to do that.
What I’ve shared above is by no means an exhaustive list and won’t necessarily be directly transferable to everyone in all cases. So, taking a page from my own playbook (tip #3), take it for what it is: free advice! You know better than anyone what you need to do to be successful in whichever way you wish to define it.