The Millennial generation is now opening businesses at a faster rate than Gen X and Boomers. The Boston Globe reports that 30-40 percent of new graduates from top colleges are forgoing the interview process in favor of the startup process. Other research shows at least 50 percent of all Millennials count working for themselves as one of their goals.
I predict the majority of these new businesses will succeed. The odd quirks their generation brings to the workplace that are driving their corporate bosses crazy are the same traits that will help them be successful as entrepreneurs. Most important among those traits is their expectation that they are qualified to lead, starting now. At Tribe, we often joke about Millennial job applicants expecting their entry-level CEO position, but if they’re launching their own companies, they’ll need that level of confidence and belief in their abilities. Millennials also tend to chafe at being judged by their experience instead of their ability to do the job. That’s also a valuable trait for a business owner, because starting a company from thin air requires you to demonstrate that ability.
Gen Y defines leadership differently than previous generations. While those of us who came before have been eager to work our way up to the big office and matching title, Millennials don’t find much meaning there. They are highly social creatures, and tend to see leadership in terms of their team’s success, rather than individual performance. In Tribe’s research with Gen Y employees, 76 percent agreed with the statement that leadership means “inspiring others to do their best,” and 63 percent agreed that it means “helping to develop other members of the team.
Here are the booby traps Millennials will need to watch for. While Gen X kids grew up with relative independence (think latchkey kids), Millennials are the generation that grew up with helmets on. Their parents were highly protective and highly involved in their lives. That’s made some Millienials uncomfortable with risk, not to mention failure, and a little less able to be self directed than older generations.
This is what I would recommend for any Millennial contemplating a startup:
1. Create an informal group of trusted advisors. Look for people you could turn to when stuck on direction or a decision, people who you feel hold some wisdom. Your parents might be among that group, along with former professors, friends of the family or chance business acquaintances.
2. Associate the risk of business with some physical risk you enjoy. When I started my first company, I took up rock climbing. It served as a valuable metaphor for me, and gave me the physical experience of taking a risk and succeeding. When you’re stuck almost at the top of a climbing wall, and you can’t figure out anything you can do next, you reach for a distant crag anyway and sometimes that works. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.
3. Develop perseverance. Millennials are used to things happening immediately, whether it’s popcorn popping in a microwave or an email moving instantly across the world. Remind yourself that some larger tasks, like launching a business, are more of a marathon than a sprint. Guard yourself against expectations of overnight success, and foster a willingness to plug away at it day after day after day.