Entrepreneurs chase their dreams

By Madeleine Farman

Rising number of young people founding firms as a reaction to traditional education and work

Alex Catt (left) and Chloe Swarbrick decided to take the plunge into their own business after becoming disenchanted with the idea of entering the traditional workforce.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Alex Catt (left) and Chloe Swarbrick decided to take the plunge into their own business after becoming disenchanted with the idea of entering the traditional workforce. Photo / Sarah Ivey

While moving house in the final year of a media degree, Deanna Yang found a bucket list that she had written as an 8-year-old.

Opening a milk and cookie bar topped the list of things she wanted to accomplish in her life. The young entrepreneur opted out of a career in journalism and decided to chase her childhood dream. She opened Moustache milk and cookie bar in central Auckland, which she says excites kids who come through the doors and takes adults back to a simpler time of their youth.

Yang was 21 when she opened her business 18 months ago. She worked three jobs while finishing her degree to cover the initial costs of opening her store.

Although Yang was serious about starting up a business, she says there was a lot of doubt about her age.

"Real estate agents or bankers would look at me and see that I was young and wouldn't take me seriously," she says.

"A lot of them would tell me I was naive to think I could even start a business."

There are an increasing number of entrepreneurs in their teens and 20s who are turning their passions into business ventures in a trend that market experts suggest is a reaction to traditional education and work.

Andy Hamilton, the chief executive of business incubator The Icehouse, says more people leaving school are looking for ways to create a career for themselves, rather than work for other people.

Eighteen-year-old Jake Miller thinks following a passion for entrepreneurship at a young age is a no-brainer. He is just about to launch his new website oompher.com.

"Our belief is that within schools in New Zealand there is a lot of information about career choices, but not about inspiration," Miller says.

"What we're trying to do is create a channel of inspiration.

"People can come to the site and get inspired by learning from people who have done extraordinary things all over the country and all over the world as well."

Miller's own passion for entrepreneurship was the inspiration behind his first business venture, which is sponsored by big business names including BNZ, Beca and Mike Pero real estate.

"I'm quite lucky in that I knew what my passion was from quite early on. I knew that in my life I wanted to start lots of businesses."

Miller's drive to start a business was so strong he turned down a $40,000 law scholarship. "I knew that I didn't need a bit of paper to help me do that, so I thought I might as well go out and get started now."

New Zealand entrepreneur Derek Handley started off in much the same way as Miller.

When Handley quit his job as a 23-year-old in pursuit of a career as a business owner, he didn't have a clear idea about the particular market he wanted to enter. Eventually he stumbled across the huge potential global mobile marketing could offer businesses and in 2001 he co-founded The Hyperfactory.

After the success of this business, Handley has started several others, has become New Zealand's youngest managing director of a listed company and has featured on the Silicon Alley 100 list of the most influential technology people in New York.

Handley's top piece of advice for all budding entrepreneurs is if you want to start a business, you should have started yesterday.

"If you are young you have a huge runway to make a lot of mistakes and so by the time you're 25 or 28 or 30 you could've started and succeeded and/or failed in creating three or four companies and not really lost anything because other people your own age are only just starting in their own careers," he says.

Chloe Swarbrick and Alex Catt, both 20, decided to take the plunge into business after becoming disenchanted with the idea of entering the traditional workforce.

Swarbrick, a law student, and Catt, a business student, recognised their strengths as potential business partners and came together to make their first step into establishing their men's clothing label, The Lucid Collective.

Swarbrick says the pair were confident their product would be successful because they were surrounded by their market demographic every day.

"We were essentially designing clothes for Alex and our friends."

Catt says the key to their success is using their own experience but not being afraid to talk to those within the industry and ask for advice.

"Everything gets done outside the office. You learn from talking to people," she says.

"To get more back you have to give more. You've got to pass on information that is special to your brand and eventually you'll receive information back that helps you."

At just 17 Sebastian Clarke is a different kind of entrepreneur. His interest in coding and creating apps using the Apple software Dropbox quickly turned into a business venture.

The Wellington high schooler offered for free online the file-sharing apps he created to make his own life easier. Grateful users quickly started offering donations to Clarke.

"I never expected to start a business but it eventually morphed into that," Clarke says.

"Now I'm filing taxes and doing all those slightly less exciting things that come with being a business.

"But I think because it's always just been an exciting hobby, I've been playing around and pushing the boundaries of my skills and constantly teaching myself new things, that it's always been really fun."

The one key factor all these young entrepreneurs have is the drive to make the first step into the business market. The Icehouse's Hamilton says the most important thing you can do in business is make the first step and embrace the process regardless of whether a business pursuit will succeed or fail on the first try.

"When you start with an idea, you've got to be a chameleon. You have to be open and change your colour as you look for the market opportunity," he says.

"You've got to be flexible and you have to be a combination of a bit crazy and open."

Hamilton describes successful business as a process of learning through experience.

Although there are increasing numbers of young business owners, they may have a competitive edge in the future as they gain experience through the market, different demographics, and different stages of life, he says.

"What it comes back to is that debate about art and science, how scientific do you need to be in the pursuit of a market opportunity as opposed to the artistic. If it looks good enough and it looks big enough, just go after it," Hamilton says.

"I think what we see these days is that most of these entrepreneurs need to do it two or three times to build up experience and to make the money to give them all the opportunities that they want."

Yang from Moustache says she does not regret the decision to enter the hectic world of business at 21.

"The only thing I had was that sheer determination and drive," she says.

"I think the most important thing is to feel the fear and do it anyway. There is never a perfect time to do anything, you just have to go and do it."

Entrepreneur tips

• Put yourself in different environments. Work in a big company. Learn all the great things that they do, and the not-so-great things that they do.

• Network. Work with others who are like you. Expose yourself to people and learn both the good and bad of business from their stories and their experiences.

• Establish whether your business idea is viable before you turn it into a business.

• Remember you are committing five to 10 years of your life so validate the market first.

• Have a clear vision, create a point of difference and produce a product you are proud of.

• Teams win in business. Find the best people to help you.

• Remember your overhead payments, keep a log of what you're spending and account for unexpected costs.

• Be an entrepreneur. Learn to scrap and scrawl. Go to that place where you have 20c left in your bank account and you have to sell something otherwise you're not going to eat.

• Feel the fear and do it anyway.

- NZ Herald

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