Young and in business? Break the rules and ignore the stereotypes

I started my first business at 17. Although I had no start-up capital - just a computer I had built myself - things escalated quickly.

From mucking around on my computer after school, I spotted an opportunity in web hosting and I went for it.

I couldn’t understand why other businesses were charging a fortune for something I knew was really cheap to offer, so I undercut their prices by around 50 per cent.

This made me pretty unpopular with established hosting companies but I didn’t play by the rules because I didn’t realise I was supposed to.

My belief is that youthful outlook helped us to grow over a seven-year period before I sold it for £2.1m to a UK plc.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I found it very hard to get people to take me seriously. I had a particularly hairy moment with my bank, who had taken a look at my account and accused me of money laundering because they couldn't understand why I had so much cash in there!

The other issue I had was that, as a youngster, I lacked the emotional intelligence required to lead.

Read: Youth and technology - enabler or inhibitor?

But what you lack in experience and knowledge, you make up for in energy. Youth, if you have it - or a youthful outlook if you don’t - can be your greatest asset in a competitive market.

Here are my tips for young entrepreneurs:

  • The older we get, the more we worry about risk and the implications of our actions, because we have more to lose. But when you’re young, none of those restrictions apply. We are free to play around and make mistakes. I see so many people delay starting their own enterprises because they want to gain experience, but the best experience is gained by doing it. If entrepreneurship is truly your calling, take the leap before life gets too serious.
  • Several people have asked me if I might have benefited from working with a coach or mentor who had the experience and wisdom I lacked. The answer is yes, had I come across the right person, but I learned pretty much everything from Google and YouTube. When everything you need to run a business is on the internet, and when you can follow people like Gary Vaynerchuck [pictured], you don't always need a mentor in a traditional sense.
  • Your business is only as good as its people. Work hard to be empathetic and to develop your emotional intelligence. If you need inspiration, psychologist Daniel Goleman has written plenty on this subject. Know that your team will not be motivated by the same things you are, because they don’t own your business. Recognise they have other needs, and try to meet them.
  • It doesn’t help that today’s young entrepreneurs - millennials - are operating beneath a black cloud of negative PR about being entitled and impatient, most of which is unfounded. At Time Etc, I work with some of the most motivating, humble and hard-working people I've ever known in my career and they're all millennials. Either ignore the stereotyping, or use it as your motivation to prove the critics wrong.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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