As an entrepreneur, I am often approached with pitches for new business ideas. This isn’t unique to me, and I am sure anyone who has started a business can attest to the number of business pitches they constantly receive.
Sometimes the new idea is presented from friends, but I’m more often pitched from people throughout everyday life, many of whom I’ve just met for the first time. Even while on an 11 -hour flight home from our Belgrade office last week I was approached by a flight attendant who told me about her new product idea. While those pitching are usually asking for feedback or just reassurance that they have the next great idea, my response is always the same: “Why haven’t you done it yet?”
The answer tends to catch people off guard as they are usually expecting me to say how great their idea is or to give some high-level feedback. However, my advice is always the same. The best time to start a business is today.
Your age is your advantage.
I feel very fortunate that we started my company while I was still a teenager in college with limited risk and very few personal responsibilities and commitments. I have tried to convince myself that if I waited several years to start a company that I would have had the entrepreneurial drive. I would be willing to take the risks and quit a job. I would be up for the challenge, and I wouldn’t be afraid of failing. The reality, however, is that as much as I want to convince myself this is the case I will never know. I will never know whether I would have had the courage to put everything on the line once I had more responsibilities.
What I do know is that every year that I would have waited, every time I decided that I wasn’t ready or came up with an excuse for why it wasn’t the perfect time, it would have gotten more difficult to start. There would have been more reasons not to take action.
When I talk to high school and college students, I am always bullish about their opportunity to start now. They, like me at the time I started a business, have very little to lose. It is much easier to start before having to make a decision for an entire family rather than just yourself. It is easier to justify spending time on a new venture when you don’t have a mortgage or when you can split your rent with a handful of roommates. And a lack of experience can also be an edge in certain cases. You are moldable, quicker to adapt, and less tied to the status quo. These are all advantages to an entrepreneur.
Ignorance is bliss.
Sometimes ignorance can also be a major benefit. When starting, you’ll have numerous people, many of whom you respect, give you critical feedback or tell you that your idea has no chance of being successful. In the early days of my company, there were tons of industry experts telling us that nobody would ever require phone verification and that there was no market for our products. Being inexperienced in the space gave us a fresh view compared to industry experts and allowed us to see the market from a different perspective which ultimately allowed us to develop a new market.
However, you don’t have to be just out of college to start a company. Reid Hoffman was 35 when he left PayPal to launch LinkedIn. Colonel Sanders was 62 when he started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are different advantages and experiences that you can leverage when starting a company later in life.
The reality is that the longer you wait, the more time you will have for excuses to pile up until starting your own business feels like an insurmountable feat. Alas, the hypothesis still stands, if you are reading this and you don’t have the benefit of being young, today is still the best day to start your business because tomorrow will just be that much harder.
Technology is your friend.
The barrier to entry has never been lower to bootstrapping a new business and reducing startup costs. If my American Airlines flight attendant wanted to launch her new product online, she could within hours with so many resources at her fingertips. She could set up her marketplace using Shopify, develop all the required contracts with LegalZoom, establish marketing automation using Mailchimp, create a new logo on 99designs, and immediately test the concept with a Facebook campaign to get market validation.
Business services like mine can be more challenging to launch but cloud computing services like AWS and Azure allow you to launch without a big upfront infrastructure cost.
Building an initial team can be done virtually at a low cost by outsourcing tasks to experts in specific areas. The digital age has given entrepreneurs everything they need at their fingertips to get started.
Fake it ’til you make it.
Technology also can make you appear bigger and more credible to potential customers. In the early days of our company, we were challenged with selling to enterprise customers who would later discover that we were a small company of a couple of people without significant funding.
We would constantly receive feedback that we had a good product, however, we were too great of a risk. The old adage that “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” was hurting our chances to grow. When customers tried to visit our office, we would make up an excuse about our conference rooms being booked and needing to meet down the street at Starbucks. One way we tried to appear bigger was by setting up a phone tree for incoming calls using RingCentral. When customers would call, they would be asked to press 1 for sales, 2 for billing, 3 for support, etc. Regardless of what callers would select, it would route to my cell phone, and I would usually need to step out of class to take the call. While not every company needs to take this route, there are many ways to appear bigger and equal the playing field with larger competitors.
The next time your friend pitches you on an idea or your flight attendant tells you about their product they want to launch, encourage them to do it. The time will never be better for them to start than today.