Generation Y Is Born To Startup

There’s a fundamental difference between the rebels of the past and today: Generation Y are born entrepreneurs.

Every generation rebels against their parents. When parents approve, their offspring disapproves. Parent says black, adolescent teen says white. Psychologists who are expert in these matters explain that rebellion is a factor in establishing identity. It’s part of the journey of growing up — personalities are taking shape and a sense of self is being nurtured. Even if you haven’t quite worked out what you want, it helps to know what you don’t want.

But the times seem to be a-changing, yet again. Today’s teens are surprisingly in harmony with their parents. They wear the same branded jeans, have similar music in their iTunes library, are happy to accompany one another to a U2 concert, and if you ask them, many will talk about their friendly, supportive relationship.

Our conventional views of rebellion have been summed up in iconic images: think Marlon Brando wearing a leather jacket astride a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle in 'The Wild Ones.' Or the young couple wrapped in a blanket, standing in the rain and mud at the famous music festival held at Woodstock in 1969. So, what’s going on? Has the rebellious stage bypassed Generation Y and their parents? How will this affect their budding identity? It’s too soon to tell, but there’s one fundamental difference between then and now: Generation Y are born entrepreneurs.

A quick visit to Facebook will show you just how many teens have begun selling products on their pages. A great video goes viral on YouTube, and suddenly kids are inspired to monetize their page and become content developers. Witness how the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations inspired the sale of hundreds of partisan T-shirts on the web—all managed from the comfort of their bedroom clutter.

Every day I’m contacted by at least 100 kids asking for advice on starting their own businesses. This is what I tell them:

You have nothing to lose
You have no mortgage, you have no husband or wife to support. So go for it! Be provocative, share your opinions. In other words, if you produce T-shirts, make them opinionated. No one stands out by being ordinary. The older you get, the more conservative you’ll probably become, so this is the time to test your limits, to see how far you can go. After all, if not now, then when?

Let your courage drive your business
When I was 15 years old, my local television station had serious problems selling television commercial space. So, I contacted them and we did a deal. I proposed producing a range of TV spots with advice to small businesses on how to, well, use TV commercials to boost their businesses. The station had nothing to lose. If nothing else they had a sweet story of a young kid who seemed crazy enough to do something different. We struck a deal and I began working with them and learning about television production and effective communication. Sadly, the station backed out a few months into the deal. By then, however, I’d learned so much that the whole exercise was worth it. You see, as naïve as I was, I had begun to build my own brand.

Here’s my advice: use your innocence, passion, energy, and fearless self. Knock on doors that you might find too uncomfortable to approach when you’re older.

Let others pay for your business
Let’s go back to the t-shirt business and the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make. They imagine an avalanche of sales and, in their youthful optimism, invest heavily in stock. This results in a pile of stuff no one wants — and a credit card debt that will take months to clear.

Don’t purchase products in advance. Wait until you get the orders, even if it may cause a slight delay. Spend time working on a sorry-I'm-late letter. It's far more important that you don’t end up with a product that no one wants. Let your customers finance your production.

Over-deliver and under-promise
The future is viral, and your business is 100 percent dependent upon it. If people like your product, they’ll tell their friends. But don’t make the mistake of thinking your great product is good enough. More effort is always required.

In Japan, it’s an old tradition to over-deliver and under-promise. You see it everywhere. Take, for example, when you order sake. First, the waiter will place a wooden box on your table. Inside the box there’s a sake cup. The sake gets poured into the cup, as you would imagine, but it doesn’t stop there. The pouring continues until the cup floats in the overflow. It makes for a challenging drink to sip, but it contains the essence of the over-deliver-under-promise principle.

Have you ever experienced this? If you have, I’m sure you still clearly remember it. Make this your mantra. If someone orders a t-shirt, include a free hat and a nice card. You can be sure that your customer won’t forget it; chances are neither will their friends.

Team up
Nothing’s worth anything unless you have a good distribution system. A friend of mine sells roses delivered to the door. Another friend sells luxury hams from Italy and exotic mushrooms from Japan. Those that buy the roses might very well be interested in a basket of exotic foodstuffs, whereas those buying the food might be interested in the flowers. One night the penny dropped. Today they share a distribution network cross promoting on another as they go.

A true entrepreneurial spirit is about passion, courage and creative thinking. Believe me, the time for conservative thinking, careful considerations and long-winded planning sessions will arrive eventually. But, before it does, help yourself to the smorgasbord of goodies before it’s too late.

BrandwashedMartin Lindstrom is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine's "World's 100 Most Influential People" and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best—seller. His latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, was published in September. A frequent advisor to heads of numerous Fortune 100 companies, Lindstrom has also authored 5 best-sellers translated into 30 languages. More at

Read more by Lindstrom: Remodel Your Meetings To Create Internal Entrepreneurs

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[image flickr user tylersilva]

Add New Comment


  • Sophie

    That's great! But I think kids have always been entrepreneurs. With the internet, today's kids have bigger toys to play with! 
    And I would like to make sure that kids get to enjoy CHILDHOOD! Entrepreneurship is really cool, but the business world is a cold and tough one! I'm not sure it is really necessary for them to deal with the pressure to succeed. 
    I'm totally for kids being entrepreneurial, that's great! But kids should be kids!

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    On the one hand, the tools are there - with the internet, cell phones, co-working offices and cafes, and outsourced services, it has never been cheaper to start a company. On the ohter hand, jobs are becoming fewer and farther between, and the working conditions are getting progresively worse and less secure. The smart folks are seeing this and going into business for themselves, it's ultimately safer and more rewarding.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach

  • Rick Clark

    Thomas Suarez and the like are rock stars. One in a gazillion. The rest of their generation, like those generations before them, will remain garage bands vying for a gig at the local Holiday Inn.

  • Free Enterprise

    Thank you, Martin, for posting this article. I work with the
    Campaign for Free Enterprise, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and we
    believe that mentoring young entrepreneurs is essential for strengthening our
    workforce, fostering job creation and staying competitive in a global
    economy. That is why we’re so excited to be hosting the Future of
    Entrepreneurship Education Summit at the Chamber this week ( and
    also streaming it live for those who can’t be there (  I
    will be sure to share your article and videos with our fans.



  • Andrew Kinzer

    When kids used to tinker on things, the divide between what they produced and what was actually marketable was pretty significant. These days, technology and marketplace accessibility have advanced to a state where you don't need to be a seasoned professional to create and distribute something of value through software - and more importantly, something people are willing to pay for. It's really great to see younger generations experimenting with entrepreneurship. One of the most important lessons any person can learn is how to experiment until they find product/market fit. The earlier somebody can key in on this, the better. Great to see you noodling on this!

  • Amy Swanson

    I love your advice for "Over-deliver and under-promise". I love purchasing things with companies that go that extra mile. It's never anything too outrageous, just a little something to make me smile when I open up the package; a handwritten thank you, a tiny dinosaur toy, etc. However, the next time I need a gift for someone (or myself LOL) I always go back to the companies that do this. Great article, Martin!

  • Erik Micheelsen

    What are these kids going to do with corporate life then? I guess "not live it" is the answer and that makes me wonder "right! if they get business that early, how about innovation then??"
    Thanks Martin ;-)

  • Bette Boomer

    Funny how this MAYBE skipped a generation or two. The baby boomer generation were revolutionaries & innovators that changed the world. Now looks like their enrepreneural kids & grandkids, the GenY-ers, have the right stuff in their gene pool!

  • David Facter

    This is one of the best articles I've read in regards to understanding the youth of today.

  • Chris Reich

    I love it. This is a great message Martin!

    I'm weary of discussing the failures of our education system. Yes, it's a mess. But teacher's unions, powerful lobbies and poorly educated parents (read as 'don't teach evolution in school!') will prevent real changes for a long, long time.

    When I talk with kids, I try to get them excited about starting their own ventures. It doesn't take a lot of money to do yard work, design T-shirts or develop an I-Phone app. It takes drive, persistence and work. Luck helps too.

    It's in the doing of real world money-making work that the value of education begins to make itself apparent.

    We teach our kids in an upside down manner. We tell them they can't do things without an education. We should be telling them about the infinite variety of things they can do. And when you want to do better, pay attention to your math teacher. When it's time to build that website, pay attention to grammar. Take Spanish and you gain access to an entire market. Do you want to understand the inks on your T-shirts? Take chemistry! You might develop an ink that totally stands out [sic] and never fades from washing. You'll own a patent. You can do it.

    I read 8-12 books per month. Always learning keeps my own value up. Sadly, I have a stack of books to give away but rarely meet anyone who actually reads!

    I'll stop. You made the point.

    Chris Reich