This month, all over America, young people are slipping on ill-fitting caps and wrinkled polyester gowns, marching to Pomp and Circumstance and — finally, finally — grabbing that hard-earned college diploma. Once the hugs and tears subside, the job hunt will begin. Many will end up working for a small business; some will help launch a start-up.
But in a real sense, these graduates are, themselves, the ultimate “start-ups.” So how do you succeed with the “start-up of you?”
What does it take to create a successful start-up?
— Bravely face risks. Start-ups are risky. College graduation is a major turning point in your life, one filled with the unknown. Be brave! Taking risks doesn’t mean being fool-hardy. It means realistically assessing situations, but not letting fear be the deciding factor. The only way to widen one’s comfort zone is to get out of it.
— Value work. Everyone in a start-up has to work hard. Work is going to take up a significant portion of your life. So choose wisely. View your work life as a critical part of your personal development, not just a way to make money. Doing good work brings self-confidence and self-esteem.
— Surround yourself with smart people. When choosing where to live, think like a start-up: Find an environment rich with smart people who think creatively, work exceptionally hard, challenge themselves. Find others that bring out the best in you, just as the people hired by a start-up determine its success.
— Think globally. The world you are entering has never been smaller, people more connected no matter where they live. It is likely that you will work with people from different countries, who speak different languages, have different values. View this as a great gift. Get to know them and their cultures. Take advantage of this diversity to widen your own world, too.
— Develop vision. This is perhaps the hardest, especially when you’re just in your early 20s, because few know what they want to do or be. So think of developing a vision not of knowing where you intend to end up, but with an eye to widening your horizons and understanding the qualities you want in the adventure you want to make of your life.
— Make sales. If you want to grow your start-up, you need to be able to convince others to join you and support you. Those are skills you need in your own life, too, grads. You’ll need to advocate for yourself. So learn to speak up so you can negotiate for raises, better jobs and fairness.
— Communicate. You’ve been busily communicating via 140 characters and text messages. It’s time to learn to communicate effectively with people of any age, on any device. Though no one is grading you, continue to work on improving your writing, speaking and presentation skills.
— Meet an important need. Businesses succeed when they meet a real need. But those needs can be petty and small. The best start-ups, the best people, look to fill needs that are important. Do something, create something, that is truly valuable.
— Make the world a better place. Here in Silicon Valley, it’s a cliché that every start-up wants to change the world. But evaluate that sentiment, and you’ll see two valuable aspects of it. One, a recognition that there are real problems in the world, such as climate change, income inequality, depletion of natural resources, threats to wildlife, political instability. And two, a great deal of optimism, a belief that, though there are very real problems, human ingenuity can address or alleviate them. Be willing to be part of the solution.
The Class of 2015 is just about in the middle of the Millennial generation, the largest demographic group since the Baby Boomers. They are shaping our collective futures.
This past weekend, one member of that class, my niece Kayley Abrams, graduated from Willamette University in Salem, Ore. I got to meet a number of her fellow graduates, and if I were an investor, I’d put my money on many of these human start-ups.
I am confident that success is in their future — and ours. Congrats to all!
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 22, 2015