Millennial entrepreneurs often get a bad rap for being overindulgent, needy and entitled, but these young founders would beg to differ and have been knocking conventions and clichés out of the park. Here's how they've gone after what they want—and got it.
What are some of the benefits of starting your own business in your twenties vs. in your thirties?
AFC: Your twenties are extremely important because it is crucial trial and error period. The more errors you make, the better, because you often don’t have too much to lose, and working through your mistakes helps you lay a solid foundation for a successful career. Your twenties are gold…minus the hangovers of course.
SP: I agree with that 100%. I started off with literally zero experience, so there was plenty of trial and error. (More errors than I can count, to be completely honest, but it was a learning curve!) I do think one of the great benefits of starting so young was that I had the luxury of time to get it right: When I started R&R, I was working for another firm, so it was not my bread and butter, and because of that I could experiment more confidently with different aspects of the business until I found my winning formula.
AFC: That’s not to say you’re not making mistakes in your thirties—*newsflash* you still are! But I think after having gone through actual business lessons in your twenties, you’re more prepared to tackle bigger challenges as your career progresses.
Is your past education and experience relevant to the industry in which you’re currently working?
AFC: I have a Law degree which is certainly a far cry from the world of fashion! After I graduated, I was certain I didn’t want to pursue a conventional legal career. However, as fate would have it, I’m constantly negotiating contracts in my current business. So having a Law degree under my belt has definitely helped.
I think the discipline of studying law, and the way the subject honed my ability to think analytically has definitely given me a competitive edge in the industry. It is still, to date, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
SP: On the other hand, I’m a mechatronics engineer. I was actually the only girl in my batch who took up mechanical engineering…
AFC: Check you out!
SP: Yeah (laughs). I worked at Mercedes for six months and again, I was the only girl. I worked twice as hard to prove myself and succeed, and this gave me the courage to pursue what I actually wanted to do, despite what I studied. I knew I didn’t have the orthodox education necessary to start a fashion brand, but I did have a good work ethic and a willingness to learn, which gave me good momentum. You have to be dogged to get to where you want to be, despite the circumstances.
What advice do you have for young women who may not be so sure of what they want to do in the future?
AFC: Pace yourself. It’s okay not to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. What’s more important is the process of figuring it out. Focus on the journey rather than the destination, which is ultimately the most important thing. Have confidence in yourself that you will go through that process and end up on the other side, stronger than you were before.
SP: One thing I’ve noticed from new graduates is that they’re so afraid of failing, they don’t even try. Before R&R, I didn’t know how to put together a business proposal or who my competitors were—I was pretty clueless. But I really wanted to try it out. Harness your passion and commit to something you believe in; the pieces will fall into place.
Speaking of passion, does it evolve with time or do you typically have the most passion for your business at inception?
AFC: Your passion for your work has to evolve with time or your business isn’t going to progress and develop. For me, the more I learn about the industry in which I operate, the more I learn to love it, because I am able to better understand and appreciate it.
SP: You need to have an initial sense of passion as you begin, but as your business starts to grow, you begin to understand how much more there is to accomplish. And that understanding is a huge driving force, which in turn gives you a boost of passion!
And how do you ensure you keep that commitment going?
AFC: You have to genuinely enjoy what you’re doing to ensure that your commitment is consistent. I am extremely invested and attached to anything I pursue. If I don’t feel wholeheartedly invested in something, I generally don’t take it on. This is one of the biggest lessons I learned in my twenties (and it took me a long time to figure out): if I take on something I’m not fully committed to, it will not succeed.
SP: I agree. For my business to move forward, it requires personal motivation and optimism. It’s not like we succeed all the time, and there is a substantial failure rate involved. But I’ve come to the understanding that, regardless of the situation, I will not give up on my brand. That is my mantra, and it’s what helps to keep me focused and grounded.
Yes, of course businesses go through bad periods. How would you ideally get through a rough patch?
AFC: Whatever hand you’re dealt, you have to work with it and figure out how to make the most of it. Giving up is never an option for me. The show must go on. There will always be a solution—you just have to invest the time and energy to find it. This is a very crucial component of developing a business.
SP: You will fail; that is part of the game. But, if your business is built on a platform of passion and belief – rather than just an arbitrary reason – then it’s easier for you to turn those failures into successes.
AFC: There’s nothing wrong with admitting, ‘You know, this hasn’t worked out the way I wanted it to.’ Figure out what went wrong, learn from it and don’t repeat the same mistake. You should view it as a learning experience and not as a failure. Pick yourself off the ground and know that you can survive.
What do you think makes a great entrepreneur?
AFC: Someone who is not afraid to fall down. At the end of the day, it is really about your self-confidence. I think it’s important for you to always stay in touch with your end goals. There’s no business that is smooth sailing all the way; each venture goes through a life cycle. What I’ve noticed from working here is that the minute things tend to get tough, people give up and start something else. That is not the lesson we should pass on. Instead, identify the reason your business is stalling and by turning it around.
SP: An entrepreneur is definitely someone who goes the extra mile. People can have confidence, and they can be driven, but they should also always strive to outdo themselves. Stay aware of your environment and above the competition; the world is always changing, so should you. The most successful entrepreneurs stay current, alert, humble, and always give their all.
Speaking of competition, what advice do you have for a start-up to remain unique in a competitive market?
SP: Competition is important because it keeps you on your feet. Instead of running down or imitating your competitors, focus on self-progression. In addition, find a mentor. Starting out, you may feel a little lost or overwhelmed as you try to navigate the business world. A mentor can be an invaluable asset when it comes to expert advice and network expansion, all of which will certainly help you along your way.
AFC: I agree. The beginning of any venture can be exhilarating, frustrating, liberating and terrifying all at once. Remember, although younger generations can be more tech-savvy than those who have been in business for years, there are still fundamental principles that are cultivated and refined by experience. In conjunction, you also have to be honest about what you can commit to your business. It doesn’t do any good to over-extend yourself when, in fact, you don’t have the cash or the hours to commit to a project.
SP: Not all businesses stem from a revolutionary idea; many successful businesses are borne out of an improvement to an old concept. For your brand to succeed, you’ve got to stay committed—fight the good fight for what you’re passionate about, and be prepared for a tough road ahead.
What would your response be to someone who tells you, “You can’t do it?”
SP: Not everyone is always going to be on your side, so I tend to brush it off. I have my strong beliefs, and my supporters and clients who provide me with endless positivity, so I try to not let unfair statements get me down. I’ve also learned over the years that, as a young entrepreneur, people are always willing to help you; you just need to ask.
AFC: I usually ask them why—why do you think I’m going to fail? It’s interesting and motivating to know the barriers and hurdles they’ve set for you, because once you overcome them and prove them wrong, it makes success that much sweeter. Over the course of your career, there will be many people who will be skeptical of your vision or who will say that you don’t have the experience or expertise. Focus, be consistent and keep going forward.
As young entrepreneurs, what are some things you worry about and how do you compensate for that worry?
AFC: The biggest thing I worry about is my team—they need to be talented, but I also want them to share the same passion and vision for the product. It is imperative that they love it as much as I do, because they are essentially the next generation of the business. You’re only as successful as your team, and so I constantly strive to keeping motivating and challenging them in new and exciting ways.
SP: I agree. It’s not about ‘you’ anymore. Once you reach a certain scale, you don’t have the bandwidth to do everything yourself, so it is crucial for your teammates to deliver according to the values and service structure you’ve built.
This article was originally published as ‘The Benefits And Pitfalls Of Starting Your Own Business In Your Twenties and Thirties’ in the August 2017 Confidence issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more stories of inspiring women, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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