The moment you start a company as a student, you’re different from your peers. There’s really two ways this can go, your peers can either think you’re wasting your time, or they feel intimidated that you appear more successful than they do. I dealt with less of the former and more of the latter, likely because of my personality.
I raised my first round of funding before any of my peers knew I was starting a company, so I was able to avoid the stage of people not believing in me. Or I was able to isolate myself from it (having moved from Atlanta to Memphis to participate in the Zero To 510 accelerator program).
Here’s the main point: when you start a company as a young entrepreneur, you straddle a major line, being the kid who you are, by age and chemical balance, and acting like the adult businessperson you need to be to close large deals and interact with mature adults. It’s a constant identity crisis that I’ll delve into here. Your mind pushes you one way, but your need to fit in pushes back.
As a teen or early 20-something, my thoughts usually focused around 3 things:
- Partying with friends
- Ultimate Frisbee
Being a kid is being a kid. You can’t really change what that entails. You want to hang out with your friends, you want to party on the weekends, and you want to make a series of bad decisions with them and talk about them over breakfast the next morning. Your friends live by the mantra that you’re only young once, and this is the time where memories are made.
However, all of a sudden, you’ve chosen to take on this responsibility to build something great. You have to create revenue and you have to do it quickly. You (more than likely) have to raise money so you can accomplish this dream. The vision you had in your brain is now responsible for putting food on the tables of employees you hire. Not only that, but the investors you team up with need a good return.
As you interact with your friends, you start to see your value system slowly deviate from theirs. The things that you used to hold as important suddenly don’t matter anymore. The hours you spent chasing girls/boys and drinking, you focus towards building your business.
So you start to feel emptier when you hang out with the people who brought you so much joy through your childhood. You start to feel like you can’t relate, and that they don’t understand the perspective with which you’re starting to see the world. The issue isn’t that you don’t like hanging out with your friends anymore, it’s that you simply cannot, because for the first time, you don’t fit into your friends group anymore. It’s painful to watch people you love slowly start to look at you as a stranger, and the fact that it is so gradual makes it even harder.
The Aged Like Fine Wine
Older people used to be boring. You talked to them and all they would discuss was stocks, finance, different businesses, etc. And now, that’s all you’re interested in. Your ideal conversation is about a person’s experiences, and about the companies they’ve built and what they’ve learned along the way. You want to hear their stories about bad business decisions so you can avoid the same mistakes.
Older people give you perspective on what’s important in life. When you spend time with them you start to learn about family and value systems. You start to see the different beliefs between the affluent and the want-to-be affluent.
You start to realize that when you hang around these people, you become more like them. And they have advice in every category of life. Older people become your mentors, and help give you perspective on situations that you didn’t even know existed.
How I Changed
I’m a person who’s obsessed with self mastery. I want to get better at being myself every single day. This means two things:
- I need perspective.
- I can’t waste time.
So let’s focus on perspective. Perspective has its origins in emotional intelligence, that is, your ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view. So how do you learn to see the world from someone else’s point of view? You have to meet as many people as possible.
I spent the first two years of my business working to meet every single person I could. I knew that if I could hear the life stories of thousands of people, I would start to see patterns that would correlate to someone’s background.
And that’s when things got clearer.
I learned that when someone has a false large ego, it’s because they want to prove themselves to someone else who has never given them approval.
I learned that when people are closed off to you at first, it’s very rarely because they don’t like you or you came off the wrong way. It’s usually because they feel uncomfortable starting a conversation or meeting new people.
Being able to see behavior and eventually get those people to open up led to massive pattern-based learning of body language, communication, and the correlation to upbringing and emotional history.
Perspective Changes You
The downside of increased perspective is you begin to realize the things you initially hold as valuable don’t matter in this world. You could be devastated that you didn’t get invited to a sorority formal by the girl you liked, but that has nothing on hearing a story of someone who built a business and had to lay off all of their employees to keep it running when they hit tough economic times.
The upside is you feel thankful for what you have. You get happier. You start to feel fortunate no matter how “bad” things are, because at the end of the day, you’re alive. Imagine the perspective you gain when you meet a friend who was shot in the chest during a robbery of their father’s store and they lived because the bullet missed their heart by 1 inch.
A typical person grows and reaches these levels of self awareness and happiness at some point during their 30s (Purely anecdotal, but from my experience). After starting your company and spending all day with 30–60 year olds, their value systems start to rub off on you and you start to mimic their thought patterns. It’s simply because we are the 5 people we spend time with the most. And to be successful, you have to be intentional about hanging out with incredibly successful people to pick up those thought patterns.
To conclude, starting a business when you are in high school or college is like starting a long distance relationship right before you go to college. You have your extremely close friends when you start, you spend time together, you grow together, you have the best times.
Then you “move away” and spend time with other people. You and your friends, due to the separation, grow on your own in separate directions. You feel the desire to maintain these relationships but you don’t feel fulfilled in them anymore as you are a different person.
They say entrepreneurship is a lonely ride, but the loneliest part is the transition between your starting point and the person you have to become to run a successful business. There’s people on both ends of the spectrum that you relate to when you get there, but along the way, it’s nearly impossible to find that deep connection with your peers.
But is it worth it? For me, every single day.