I heard on the radio recently something about the number of Young Entrepreneurs rocketing since the recession started. This triggered off a few little things in my head that were bugging me. For one, the phrase ‘Young Entrepreneurs’. Now, I am no stranger to this phrase as for many years I ran one of the biggest support programmes in the UK for ‘Young Entrepreneurs’. But, I have never been that comfortable with pigeon-holing people like this, as I’m not sure the ‘Young’ bit changes anything. In fact, I almost saw it as rather patronising that very often I would go to events and find people gushing about how amazing it was that these ‘Young’ Entrepreneurs were starting businesses and what courage they had. Now this may make me sound like some bitter and twisted, middle-aged cantankerous whatnot- but bear with me. It is courageous, but it is not surprising.
There are some simple facts about starting a business in recent times that means the rise is happening- and that actually it is not unforeseen. First, for many people in the UK, starting a business has become a necessity, rather than a choice. Graduates leaving university are faced with less and less ‘good’ jobs to go to. These ‘good’ jobs are often deemed to be in corporates, which often means going to live in London. I have never understood this. I had a fleeting career in a corporate and hated it. For me it was full of all the cliché types of people you think you might meet- almost like walking onto the set of ‘The Office’. People had ridiculous job titles and much of the social fabric of the organisation was based on job title and perceived importance. ‘Career’ per se was everything to people- rather than job satisfaction. I have seen this over many years afterwards with people clamoring to ‘escape the city’ after a few years- very often to start their own enterprise. Don’t get me wrong- for some people careers in corporates are everything, but it was not for me, or the others who escaped. For me, no share options, salary hikes, conferences abroad and daft job titles could hide the fact- I felt like I was a straightjacketed tiny cog in a huge machine.
Secondly, at a young age starting a business is the perfect time to do it, and it is actually not that scary to do, as there is plenty of support. Living your life is at the cheapest point you will get (for a while) and the networks you have from college or university are all fresh- you’ll know lots of people to help with things. People are full of ideas and the world is buzzing! Yes, you might have post university debt, but it is likely that you will have more in a few years time. Let’s face it once you get to middle age with loans, mortgages, kids, bills, cars etc trying to make the leap from a job to self employment is seriously hard- it’s a spiral. Changing lifestyle in middle age is very tough- particularly when you have kids. Going back to my first point- I’m sure that’s why many large businesses are full of unhappy people, who given the choice would rather do something else- but they feel they can’t. The move to give up the title and status of ‘Global Head of Really Important Stuff’ is a brave one to do for many.
So I think people are getting used to the idea that there is more to life than being employed in a large business. The trouble is colleges and universities are still teaching people for jobs in large organisations that are not really there anymore. They are making some good headway in addressing that, but we are far from there yet. Working in a small firm is fun, you learn lots and you can see the direct impact you have on the firm. Running you own firm multiplies this by at least 100 fold!
So I don’t think the ‘young’ bit of ‘young entrepreneur’ actually changes anything- so why separate them out (and when do you stop being young anyway?). The simple fact is that anyone starting their own business is courageous- and first and foremost you are putting your ability to earn money very much with the skills you have making a direct line to your pocket. You fail- you don’t eat. How much more fun does it get than that?
Whilst I have huge respect for any young person starting up I’m going to champion the fed up middle-aged executive here. The person who walks out of their comfy corporate life, gives up a nice salary and all the subsidized trimmings that go with it, with a huge mortgage, car loans, and an impending change of lifestyle, and no guaranteed income- gets my vote of respect. I wonder how many people tied up in large organisations have ideas that could change the world and employ people but just do not have the bottle to make the leap?