Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. But for those who are, trying while you’re young is ideal. Your opportunity cost is lowest! Many people I know say, “Well, I’ll work two years in banking or consulting and then look at entrepreneurship.” The reality is, soon they’re getting married or having a family, and the chances of them leaving a steady salary to take this risk disappear.
And if they make the leap, young entrepreneurs are especially well-positioned to succeed. In every other industry, age equals success: The more experience you have, the more senior you are. Entrepreneurship is the one place where some of the youngest people are at the top of the food chain. Why? Because young entrepreneurs’ inexperience is their greatest asset. They can come into an industry and ask questions about things that, for everyone else, have become unquestioned assumptions. Then, unburdened by old ways of thinking, they can challenge those assumptions to come up with entirely new ways of looking at a problem. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “A lot of people think innovation is thinking outside the box, when in reality innovation comes from thinking about a problem from a different box.” Newness is valuable.
So here’s the big question: Where should young entrepreneurs focus? Many make the mistake of copying existing winners — “I’m building the Uber for X, Y, or Z.” In doing so, they’re paying attention to one winner and failing to see that a lot of its success had to do with timing, luck and a few creative things along the way. People love to say why Snapchat won, for example, but they don’t talk about the 15 companies that launched an almost identical product at the same time that didn’t take off. Following this model is like playing casino capitalism. You’re just making a bet.
Instead, young entrepreneurs should go into markets where their fresh perspective is a systemic advantage. These are existing industries with real problems, where there currently isn’t a dominant disruptor — like healthcare, transportation, government services or even insurance, where lasting companies are just waiting to be built.
Yes, these traditional sectors are complex, steeped with decades of legacy infrastructure. It’s hard to even know where to begin. But that’s why we need to make those opportunities more visible to young people. Young founders I’ve spoken to get really excited when they hear these problems, and they come up with ideas. Conversations like these are a place to begin — and to inspire us all.