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What 7 Young Entrepreneurs Learned From Starting Their Businesses

May 11, 2015
Small Business
What 7 Young Entrepreneurs Learned From Starting Their Businesses
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Sure, starting a small business sounds like a dream: You can ditch the 9-to-5, be your own boss, set your own hours and do something you love for a living. The reality is, it can be really hard work, with long hours, tons of stress and disheartening setbacks. Entrepreneurs under the age of 30 face particular challenges.

NerdWallet interviewed several young small-business owners who started their companies. Here are some of the mistakes they’ve made, obstacles they’ve overcome and lessons they’ve learned along the way.

1. Focus on your strengths and hire out your weaknesses.

Rachel Charlupski, owner of the Babysitting Co.

Rachel Charlupski, owner of the Babysitting Co.

Rachel Charlupski started the Babysitting Co. in 2006, when she was just a 22-year-old college student at Arizona State University. Her business is going strong now, but Charlupski says she would do one thing differently if she were starting over.

“I definitely would have hired more people quicker,” Charlupski says, adding that she did most of the work for the first seven years. “I had no training or anything in accounting, and I was doing everything myself. I waited for there to be an issue before I hired a full-time bookkeeper.”

“You have to focus on what you’re good at. I could have taken my skills and done that 24 hours a day, instead of doing all of the things I wasn’t really good at,” she says. “I definitely think the business would have benefited more from hiring people to do their job.”

2. Safeguard your company’s values.

Hillary Lewis, founder and CEO of Lumi Organics.

Hillary Lewis, founder and CEO of Lumi Organics.

Hillary Lewis is the founder and CEO of Lumi Organics, which manufactures 100% organic, cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. She started the company in 2013 at age 27, while she was in business school at the University of Virginia. At times, as a young businesswoman, she’s encountered a lack of respect.

A particular incident stands out for Lewis. In a meeting with distributors, Lewis was informed that one of them was pricing a 16-ounce juice at more than $10. So she set up an in-person meeting to discuss the high price.

“One of the older people in there, when I tried to talk to him about margins and pricing, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Oh sweetheart, do you understand, you know, margins? And like, revenue? And profit?’ ” Lewis says.

“I told him, ‘Please, don’t call me sweetheart. But, yes, I do understand those metrics quite well, because I have built a business. I’m trying to negotiate and find a way that we together can build our companies and grow,’ ” Lewis says.

“We’ve since fired them because I don’t think their culture fits what we need at this point.”

3. Network early and often.

Claire Jones, founder of the General Store Seattle.

Claire Jones, founder of the General Store Seattle.

Claire Jones, 25, started the General Store Seattle — a distributor of products for people who prefer to buy local goods — in November 2014. Looking back, she thinks building an effective network in her field sooner than she did might have helped.

“Most people who start their own businesses network first, and then they think to start their own business,” Jones says. “I’ve kind of been networking as I go, picking up advisors and partners here and there, and I think that’s been the most challenging part, developing the people power behind it.”

Jones advises young entrepreneurs: “Research everything you can, and talk to as many people in your business as possible, because they are going to know things that you’re not going to know straight off the bat.”

Charlupski, the Babysitting Company founder, agrees. She recommends asking others for help, whether it’s your family, friends or business colleagues.

“I reached out to a lot of people who I had read about, or seen on television, or was following on social media, and I said, ‘I respect what you do — I’d like to be more like you. I’d like to learn about what you do and maybe what I can take from what you do and apply it to my business,’ ” Charlupski says. “I made great connections professionally, but also made a lot of friends.”

Mandy Nagel, owner of I Thought of You.

Mandy Nagel, owner of I Thought of You.

4. Stay organized.

The key to keeping things running smoothly is being organized, says Mandy Nagel, owner of I Thought of You, which sells handmade, fair-trade items made by skilled artisans around the world.

“Personally, I love lists. They keep me in check and help me handle items in order of priority,” says Nagel, who launched the business in 2013 at age 26.

“Whatever your system is, keep it up-to-date and manageable across the team, so nothing falls through the cracks. You’ll appear wise beyond your years if your communication is clear, focused and organized.”

5. Get creative with financing.

Amy Isabella Chalker, founder of Isabella Gourmet Foods.

Amy Isabella Chalker, founder of Isabella Gourmet Foods.

One of the biggest obstacles to starting a business at a young age is not having the same access to funding that you might later in life, says Amy Isabella Chalker, who at age 29 started a boutique artisan grocery store, Isabella Gourmet Foods, in 2013.

To get her business off the ground, Chalker raised money from friends, family and crowdfunding sites Indiegogo and Kickstarter. She also got help from Women’s Economic Ventures, a nonprofit in Santa Barbara, California, that seeks to empower female entrepreneurs.

“[Women’s Economic Ventures] works to provide small loans for businesses just starting out, and they were able to offer me a $10,000 loan, which allowed me to get my inventory for the shop and actually get the doors open,” Chalker says.

“It’s been two years since I opened the doors, and since that time, I have had to continue to get very creative with financing, raising money from crowdfunding and [applying for] loans from local small-business agencies.”

6. Create a business plan and mission statement.

 Joshua Adam Brueckner owner of Skinnyfatties.

Joshua Adam Brueckner, owner of Skinnyfatties.

Joshua Adam Brueckner is the owner of Skinnyfatties, an online necktie slimming service. He says he might’ve explored the direction of the company prior to starting if he’d created a business plan and a mission statement at the outset.

“I think a lot of trial and error could have been alleviated a little bit if there was a plan in place, rather than just throwing myself into it,” says Brueckner, who launched the company in July 2012 at age 24. It wasn’t until a month ago that the company released its mission statement.

Early on, it’s important to articulate the company’s mission and values, Brueckner says. He believes businesses are more likely to fail without a foundational mission statement.

“I held on by God’s grace, and I just now sort of put together something that could speak to what we really believe in.”

7. Take the risk while you’re still young.

Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack.

Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack.

Jim Belosic, 34, is CEO of ShortStack, a company that produces software that businesses use for marketing campaigns on social media, mobile devices and the Web. He started his first company when he was just 22, which came with a few advantages.

“You’re young and have little to lose,” Belosic says. “If it all blows up in your face, you still have time to recover, so why not go for it? The older you get and the more responsibilities you have, the harder it is to recover. So when you’re young, take chances.”


For more information about how to start and run a business, visit NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.

Steve Nicastro is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter@StevenNicastro and on Google+.


Top image via iStock.