Starting a company is difficult for almost everyone, but especially so for kids in middle school, high school, and even college. As kids, we’re inexperienced and naïve, and we know what will and will not work out much less than the adults around us. Younger people are not as learned in particular areas of study, and we do not have finely honed skills like our adult counterparts, meaning we are not as valuable to potential co-founders. From these challenges, I have learned many lessons.
The first idea:
I am going to be a junior in high school, and first got the urge to be an entrepreneur and start a company at the beginning of my sophomore year. I had no idea what to do or how to begin, so my first inclination was to sit around and think of an idea for a business, outsource the coding and development work for the project, and then launch in the hope that investors would come bursting through the door with money to help me expand. My idea was to create a small business profiling site that would make it easy for people to find places to go when they needed or wanted a particular service or item. I thought I should keep the idea a secret until it had been completely developed so no one could steal it. However, I should have been talking to businesses and their customers to see if they would use a service like this. At the time, I thought this idea was brilliant. I outsourced the coding work, and spent $1000 dollars of my own money, to build a product that was far from the one I envisioned. My money was wasted, and I had found out the hard way that my idea was not viable.
From this experience I learned a couple of things, one of which was that outsourcing work is a very risky endeavor that should only be done with care and great attention to the person or company you are outsourcing to. The other thing I learned was that sharing your idea with others is much more valuable than keeping it to yourself. By giving others an idea of what you are trying to do, you will get valuable feedback as well as figure out whether or not your idea has legs.
The next idea:
As I went on from one idea to the next idea, I discovered that finding a co-founder; especially one with a technical background was a very difficult thing to do. Any time I would go to a service or ask other people for introductions to programmers or coders, I was met with reluctance. I think my age was a very small part of the difficulty in finding a co-founder; rather I had not put in the effort to attract a technical business partner besides having my idea. The thing I learned from trying to find a technical co-founder, was web developers and software engineers appreciate people who try to do something themselves before going for help. Looking back, instead of spending large amounts of time sending emails to technical people, I would have been much better off spending my time learning how to code, building a prototype, and then reaching out to someone after I had put in a good effort. Now I’m learning how to program, and my advice to anyone who is planning on starting a web or mobile-based business is to use their free time doing just that. I’ve talked to different people about the value of being able to create your own applications, and they say eventually if you want to start your own business you will have to know how to code.
In late April, I read about an event called Startup Weekend. At a Startup Weekend event, business people, designers, and developers come together to launch a business in 54 hours. I decided to attend Startup Weekend NYC, which took place from June tenth to June twelfth with my dad. I had an idea set in my mind that had been validated by many people I talked to. Friday night I pitched the idea, and had a great team form around me to begin working on the project. My goal for attending the weekend event was to win the competition. Our team did not win the whole competition, but did win a $500 dollar prize for the best planned implementation of PayPal. The idea I had for that weekend, was an application that made buying and selling spots in line secure and simple, so people do not have to waste their time in line. Our splash pages are at www.selfey.com or www.selfey.net if interested. The final lesson I learned, which I took from Startup Weekend, was that when doing a startup you must surround yourself with good people. I was incredibly fortunate to have honest and talented people working with me to bring this simple idea into what could be a business. Now that the weekend is over, we are still working hard on the project.
As a first-time entrepreneur, I have learned many things that I hope will be valuable to the people reading this. All of the points I have mentioned in this article will hopefully help teens and young people alike who want to start a business. However, before any of the knowledge you have picked up can come into play, you have to get out there and be devoted to seeing your well-thought out idea help users in one way or another. While the goal of a business is to make money, having happy users will lead to revenue and profits down the road. Once you are completely committed to a project, even with bumps in the road to success, you will persevere and find your way.