It’s easier than ever before to start your own business
This article was written by Rick Spence,
published on March 13, 2015 for the Financial Post
After being laid off from his management job in 1990, Bill started a consulting business. First thing he did was stock up on the latest technology: a $3,000 personal computer setup with a 128-Mb hard drive, snazzy VGA monitor and dot-matrix printer. His fax machine was a good deal at $1,000. He also invested $200 in a fax modem, but he never got it to work.
Bill spent $100 on professionally printed business cards, and produced a trifold brochure for $900. He got a bargain on office space, subleasing in a friend’s advertising agency for just $300 a month so he would have a place to go every day to work undisturbed. After all, he had spent just $3,000 on newspaper ads. Finally, he paid $1,000 to join a club so he would have a constant source of prospects and a place to meet clients downtown.
Bill really wanted to invest another $2,000 in a car phone. But at this point in his startup shopping spree, he knew he’d better bring in some revenue first. With a new baby on the way, cash was tight, and the monthly Pampers bills were yet to come.
This year, Bill’s 24-year-old daughter Lisa started an importing business from her room in a condo she rents with friends. Her fifth-generation MacBook Air cost $1,500; her printer, just $29.95. She paid $6 for a logo on Fiverr, and shells out $1.99 a month for her website. Her downtown office is a Starbucks.
Lisa’s $60 a month phone bill compares with what Bill used to pay for a one-hour call to Halifax. But Lisa doesn’t know what long-distance fees are. All of her files are in a cloud somewhere, accessed by a phone that contains more processing power than NASA had when she was born.
Bill offered his daughter some startup funds, but she turned him down. She arranged an $18,000 loan from the not-for-profit agency Futurpreneur, although she didn’t really need it. What she really wanted was its two-year mentoring program, which matches her up with an experienced entrepreneur in a related field. For free.
I know, right?
Lately I’ve been meeting a lot of young entrepreneurs at numerous events, and their confidence is unbounded. To them, business is a part of their lives. It’s not what they do from 9 to 5, or to put bread on the table, but an essential expression of who they are and how they create value for the planet. At one recent conference for university entrepreneurs, I met a 10th-grader who smuggled himself in. He wanted to learn all he could as fast as he could, because he’s about to launch his own catering business.
The contrasting fictional startups of Lisa and her dad reveal why today’s young entrepreneurs are so plugged in and ready to go. A generation ago, entrepreneurship was an alternative lifestyle for people who just didn’t fit into the corporate model, conducted with clunky tools. Virtually all the trends of the past 25 years — from education and technology to deregulation and globalization — have led to this future, where confident, empowered individuals can make their mark without the security blanket of an employer.
Today’s always-on world, reinventing itself every few years is a blank slate for young people to design their own futures, whether they’re into apps, ecommerce, import and export, fitness, health and medicine, marketing, food, travel, social innovation, or a million other niches where consumers’ preferences are changing as fast as the technology they use.
A while back someone tried to call the latest youth cohort “Generation E,” for entrepreneur. It didn’t stick. The truth is, entrepreneurship is no longer a trend or accessory. It is a way of thinking and doing — innovation plus action — in all aspects of daily life. When 46% of Canadian post-secondary students can see themselves running their own businesses, as demonstrated in a 2013 survey, you know entrepreneurship has become part of the culture.
And it’s just in time. The shifting trends described above have robbed big corporations and institutions of certainty and control, which is why traditional employers can no longer create enough jobs. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor notes that since the early 1990s, “the capacity of the world economy to create jobs has been steadily declining.” In disrupted markets it is the entrepreneurs, armed with powerful tools, specific market knowledge and the willingness to bet on their own convictions, who have the best chance to survive and thrive.
For years I despaired of our schools’ inability to teach entrepreneurship, and the failure of government to provide better support systems. But reality has overtaken these floundering institutions. The Internet brought the entrepreneurial economy into everyone’s bedroom. When people see people just like them raising thousands of dollars for new projects on Kickstarter, they don’t need their teacher telling them this is important.
But it’s not just about youth. The trends that propel entrepreneurship have huge impact on established businesses and older entrepreneurs (anyone over 30). The new kids on the block want to do business with you. And they can help. They know their niche. Their Google world compels them to create real value and provide dependable service; they know reputations today can be shredded in an instant.
But they also want to compete with you. Be afraid: their 7/24 commitment means you may have to raise your game. But that’s a good thing. Healthy competition makes everyone better.