Is high school too early to start a business?
As Marisa Sanfilippo writes in the Huffington Post, some entrepreneurs start even younger. George Otte, a successful entrepreneur based in Miami, launched his first enterprise—a neighborhood mango stand—at the tender age of 7.
Seven? That’s barely into the proverbial age of reason. But youth and inexperience sure didn’t stop Otte.
Indeed, Otte went on to found a computer repair business in college, then launched and grew three more businesses over the course of the next 15 years.
His story is remarkable, but not unique. Some of the world’s most successful businesspeople launched their first companies before they attained the right to vote.
Should you (or your kids) follow in their footsteps?
That depends. Not everyone has the drive to start a business of their own. If you’re not interested in chasing profits and being your own boss, that’s fine. You can harness your productive capabilities in myriad other ways.
But if you do have a taste for entrepreneurship, you should start early. Or, if you missed the boat years ago, you should encourage your young ones to make their move now. Here’s why.
1. Rack Up Experience
Proponents of on-the-job training know that there’s no substitute for experience. Starting your own business is basically a high-stakes exercise in on-the-job training. As your own boss, you’re going to learn something every day: how to manage out an underperforming employee, negotiate with a recalcitrant vendor, navigate bureaucratic red tape. Armed with the takeaways from each event, you’ll be better prepared for next time—and there’s sure to be a next time.
2. Fail Early
Tech entrepreneurs live and die by a simple mantra: “Fail early.” The sooner you realize a new business idea isn’t going to work out, the sooner you can move on to the next. And the earlier you start your entrepreneurial career, the more cycles of failure and rebirth you’re likely to experience. Rather than shying away from setbacks, embrace the immutable reality that they’re going to happen, and learn from them as you move on.
3. Learn the Value of a Dollar the Hard Way
Parents use all sorts of tricks to teach their kids the value of an earned dollar, but there’s nothing quite like learning it for yourself. And it’s worth remembering that many teens don’t really learn how to value their purchases and think intentionally about their budgets until well after high school, when they live independently for the first time.
Many business owners proudly display the first dollar they earned on their wall or desk. Even if you don’t have a public store or office, you’ll no doubt cherish your first transaction forever.
4. Get a Head Start on Equity-Building
Another reason to start early: a head start on equity building. Just as it takes years to build substantial equity in a home, it takes time (sometimes years or decades) to build enough corporate equity to achieve a profitable exit. If your long-term plan finds you selling your company or (long, long from now) transferring it to the younger generation, you’ll want to make sure you’re positioned to reap the benefits.
5. Take on More Responsibility
Running a business takes responsibility, and lots of it. While extracurricular activities like student government and athletics certainly involve responsibility as well, there’s nothing like taking control of a nascent enterprise—and answering to no one but yourself—to polish the skills you’ll use for the rest of your life.
6. Temper Your Expectations
Most fresh-faced entrepreneurs don’t get rich overnight. Many never get rich. And a distressing number fail, at least the first time or two.
None of this should discourage you. Rather, the knowledge that you’re not likely to see breakout success (or even traction) on your first go should empower you. Once you find the right balance between your ambitious vision and your realistic, experience-driven expectations, you’ll be better equipped to face the challenges of running a successful business—at 15, 35, 55, and perhaps even 75.
So, what do you think: Is high school too soon to start a business? Why or why not?