A female founder who started her first company at the age of 19 shares her advice on how to succeed as a young entrepreneur.
By Polina Raygorodskaya (Co-founder & CEO, Wanderu)
I was a sophomore at Babson College when I started my first company, Polina Fashion. It began as a fun way to make money producing fashion shows but ultimately got me featured as one of Business Week magazine’s "Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25," running a full-service PR firm with offices in New York, Boston and Phoenix.
As a 19-year-old female entrepreneur, I came across many challenges; from losing clients because they thought I was too young to handle their account to dealing with employees nearly twice my age. In an industry where age and experience meant everything, I had to prove myself as a young entrepreneur, gaining the following tips along the way.
As a young entrepreneur, first impressions are everything. The fact that you are young means you must be that much more mature to balance out your outward appearance. Sometimes you need to be strict and go against what you were raised to believe; that older people are always right. At Polina Fashion, I had employees that were more than ten years older than me but I forced myself to forget about age in order to inspire my employees to look at me as a leader.
Appearance is also very important in establishing an image of confidence and maturity. When talking to potential customers and employees you should maintain good posture and exert confident yet open body language. It is also important to dress the part. Business casual is usually the best option.
Starting a company in college, I had to balance a full-time job with full-time school. My suggestion for time management is to set priorities. Make a list of five things that you want to accomplish, then when you finish one item you can add another. I found out very quickly that if you try to get everything done at once you get nothing accomplished. Start with the hardest, most important things then work your way down.
Learning how to network is one of the most important skills that a business owner can have. While in college, I spent a lot of time connecting with alumni, inviting them to coffee and getting their advice. I also networked at a lot of events in my industry including fashion shows, cocktail events and launch parties. My goal was to get five business cards of people that I wanted to follow-up with, and then take them out for coffee to build that relationship.
Once you have those networks, don’t forget about them! Set yourself reminders to follow up with people, whether by email or by taking them out to lunch. A great way to follow-up with a lot of people is to host a personal or networking event. Sometimes you might even add those networks to your team. I believe that having a rock star team is important to a successful business. Look for people that can add unique value while also fitting in with the company culture and vision. It is important to build a tight-knit family within the workspace as well. At Wanderu, we host weekly game nights where we bond as a group and do regular company outings to fun places like sports games, picnics or bowling.
Mentors are the best secret tool that you can have as a young entrepreneur starting out. They have been through the good and the bad that you will soon face. When I first started my company I didn’t know how hard it would be to get clients and employees and then keep them when things started going sour. Having a great mentor can help you stay sane during the hard times and have someone to celebrate with during the good times.
The Best Advice
Being a young entrepreneur is hard. You need to stay focused and keep your eyes on the end result. It is easy to get discouraged so you must have a thick skin. As a young entrepreneur you will often get people that don’t think you will make it, that think you don’t have the maturity, experience, or drive to succeed. Don't get angry. Instead, channel this to fight that much harder to be successful.
In the end, you have to do what you are passionate about, not just what will make you money. The most successful entrepreneurs are those that solve real problems for themselves that happen to also affect millions of people. If you do what you love, you will work much harder and be much happier; the money will follow as a result.
Do you agree with this advice? What would you add to it?
About the guest blogger: Polina Ragorodskaya is the co-founder and CEO of Wanderu.com, the simplest way to find and book inter-city bus and train travel between any two points in the country. Follow Wanderu on Facebook and Twitter @gowanderu.