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.
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.
Martin 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 martinlindstrom.com.
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[image flickr user tylersilva]