16 year old wants his own business
April 26, 2010 8:22 PM   Subscribe

What advice can you give to a 16 year old that wants to start his own business?

I really think i know what i want to do when i grow up. I was thinking about doing engineering, but honestly, i dont think thats my true passion. I think i would love to start my own business. Doing something i love, make it expand, and maybe even get lucky and have it grow into something huge. But honestly, i barely know the tip of the iceberg. The business i would want to start im not 100% sure on. Something with technology would be the best. But i dont know. I think that whole area is covered pretty well by existing ones.I know that it will be years for me to see any kind of growth or large money gains.

So what do you have to tell me? Would i be better off looking to do something else? Am i simply wasting my time? I'm really just trying to get a grasp on the idea of owning a business.

Thanks for any of your thoughts.
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Work & Money (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Go to college, that's the place to learn about these things. Graduate college, that's the time to figure out these things.
posted by Think_Long at 8:24 PM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

err graduate from college, graduate school may or may not be necessary.
posted by Think_Long at 8:24 PM on April 26, 2010

If you have a specific idea (or if you're exceptionally good at providing a specific service), go for it.

Otherwise, don't. Wait until the "big idea" comes.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea to pursue that engineering degree. It very well may inspire you with that "big idea," and will give you the expertise to implement it.

If you're interested in dabbling in the business side of things, there are degree programs for that too (especially at the Master's level -- not sure about undergrad)
posted by schmod at 8:26 PM on April 26, 2010

*That is, degree programs for engineering management and technology-related entrepreneurship. Of course, Business School exists.
posted by schmod at 8:27 PM on April 26, 2010

Don't take business classes; they're wastes of time. Take a rigorous major (science, math, economics, finance, whatever suits you) in college, spend time making lots of friends (aside from being friends they'll be future business connections), work hard, and do whatever you can to foster your creativity. Your ultimate success/failure will depend on how good of an idea you have, how good you are with people, and how hard you're willing to work.

Also, if you do these things and end up wanting to do something else down the road, you'll be in good shape for that too.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:27 PM on April 26, 2010

It's really good that you're thinking about these things now, because college works really well if you have a good idea of what you want to do. If you want to be an entrepreneur, then start looking into schools with good undergraduate entrepreneurial business programs. Starting something small now could turn out good though, for the learning experience if nothing else. To get going on that, first find a need, then design a solution at a good price. But don't let it take you away from your education. Think_Long is right that the intricacies of business ownership are well-covered in the hallowed halls.
posted by carsonb at 8:32 PM on April 26, 2010

From someone who has been there my suggestion would be to work for the man for a little bit to get some experience, then do consulting. Also get involved in student organizations, running a student organization is very much like running a business if you do it right.

I personally have found classes are a waste of time, but to each their own.
posted by jlind0 at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2010

There's a heck of a lot more to running a business than just having a good idea you want to run with.

Setting up a numbered company, incorporating it, accounting, insurance, taxes, business bank account, business credit card, payroll, safety inspections, certifications, BBB, possibly travel to pound the pavement, trade shows, advertising, own domain named website with e-mails, business phone number, paper trail and somewhere to store it, off-site back-ups of all company data, I won't even get into what would be involved for a brick and mortar office besides renting space is a possibility, which brings me to business address for mail, meeting with clients, business strategy plan, invoices, fax number although antiquated, shipping, copier, ...

I'm rambling, and it depends on the scale you intend.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:58 PM on April 26, 2010

Go to college. Take some business classes while you are there. Save as much money as you can.
posted by twblalock at 9:02 PM on April 26, 2010

My partner works for a company started by a guy when he was 16. It was his third business and brings brings in something like $23 million a year now, is a webhosting service. His father helped him out and is now the CFO of the company. I don't know how scaleable or reproducible what he did was, but I wonder if you could think about interviewing people who've started companies young? There is an interview with Matthew Hill, my partner's CEO, here that talks some about his experience as a teen and what inspired him to start the business he did.
posted by not that girl at 9:07 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Go to www.warriorforum.com and digitalpoint and look at the services and products offered.

I think you might be surprised at how many folks there are of your age or not that much older.

Do some simple, cheap jobs for people-- installing scripts, or writing short articles, or whatnot--, so you can get a sense of what it's like dealing with customers.

The thing is, in terms of the web, being young and starting now gives you a tremendous advantage; remember that older folks on the web are, generally, playing catch-up.

Look particularly in the "special offers" section of Warrior Forum-- you'll find that many young people are carving out little niches and exploiting out-of-the-way opportunities, and some are doing rather well taking this route. Read the forums... see what people need... and eventually you can find a way to give them that, and charge money or an email address for it.

Don't buy lots of stuff or spend money-- just read and watch and do jobs for other people.

Don't wait for college and business school-- when it comes to practical affairs like business, the things taught in school are often years behind what you can learn on your own, if you dig and keep on digging and then start doing. Obviously, go to college-- but explore business before you get there. B-school and college can be useful for designing business systems... but business systems are not terribly complex. In fact, most "business systems" can be explained to you over lunch.

If you want to learn physics, you'll need college. If you want to learn business, you really just need the web, curiosity, and common sense. And the fact that you're sixteen means you can probably just dial up business people in your area and ask to interview them... and they'll you about their business models.

Basically, when it comes to business, doing things regularly and quickly is far more important than knowing them thoroughly. (Rule of thumb: As an exec, your job is to sense opportunities, make contacts, and make decisions; when it comes to the technical details, you hire people... because there are never enough hours in the day to master all the intricacies of a given project yourself.)

Are you still reading this? Stop, and go to warriorforum.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:10 PM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Start now! If you have an idea for a business, give it a shot. Obviously you want to start small (no business loans to get started, use as little money as possible to launch your idea), find some customers to buy your product/service, and "ta da" you have a business. The idea is to have more income than expenses (and great customer service, and a product/service that people need/want). Obviously if you start making money you will need to take a crash course in business stuff (taxes, accounting, etc) which can often be found free of charge in your community (AARP, community colleges, etc). You don't have to wait for the perfect idea because chances are you will run through a number of businesses before you find one that sticks. Good luck!
posted by MsKim at 9:15 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

College can be a good idea, but business school may or may not be the right track. Honestly, the biggest thing you're going to get out of college is the connections you will make there. The right college is essential for that. Also, actually getting your degree is immaterial. Ideally, you should probably found a company while you're still in college and then drop out.

Read this book for perspective from a entrepreneur who started in high school. Learn software programming. Find people who are interested in startups in your area. Attend an Open Coffee Club or something similar. Find a community of people who are interested in entrepreneurship and business and start making yourself a fixture of the community. Tech incubators are especially good for this sort of thing. Contact a local venture capital firm and ask them to set you up with a summer internship. Seek out mentors, people who have founded companies. Send them an email, introduce yourself and ask them to meet you for coffee, or if they're not local, ask for them to talk to you on the phone. Entrepreneurs love to share their hard-won knowledge, especially with young people who want to pursue this career.

Ideas are easy, business is 95% about implementation and a lot of that depends on finding the right community of people to support you.

That said, I'll put my money where my mouth is. I started my first business when I was 14, so I've got about 16 years of perspective on this. MeMail me and I'd be glad to talk to you about my experiences.
posted by signalnine at 9:15 PM on April 26, 2010

check out this website: How to Make a Million Dollars, by Marshall Brain, the howstuffworks.com guy and author.

Seconding doing something now that takes very little money to start. Make contact with the market really fast-- sell your unpolished first whatever ASAP, instead of tweaking some plan or product until it's what you think is perfect-- from what I hear, your plan always changes, sometimes a lot.

If that's too much, get a sales job or a job in the industry you want to go into, and learn all you can. Quit and get a different job when your learning rate slows down. Repeat.
posted by sninctown at 9:46 PM on April 26, 2010

College may or may not be in your best interest. For some people, especially self starters it just gets in the way. It can easily be more expensive than starting a business and it takes four years that you could be using to get real experience really running a business. It depends on your personality and what kind of business you want to run.

Get out there and try stuff now, learn the ropes. As others have said, spend time on the 'net learning and networking. Talk with people who are more experienced about your ideas. They can teach you and make your expectations realistic. Maybe contact the SBA in your area and see if they can hook you up with a mentor or two.
posted by Ookseer at 11:22 PM on April 26, 2010

Help yourself through college by doing business on the side, even if it's just being self employed washing cars or fixing computers. You'll get SO much more out of any business school if you've already experimented with a bunch of small low-risk ideas for making a bit of money.

If you think of "starting a business" as this Great Big Thing requiring an enormous investment of time and money and thought, you'll never start, or if you do start and it doesn't work you'll feel like a failure. On the other hand, if you think, "hmm maybe this job lot of cheap belts from the market will sell really well on Ebay", that's a low risk thing you can try out; if it fails you're not out much. More to the point, every little thing you do like this will be teaching you something about business.

The other day I met a schoolkid who picked up a big box of toys cheap from a market trader who was packing up for the day and didn't want to take the stuff back with him. He was busy working out how much he could sell this stuff for on the playground. This is the kid who will be successful in business as an adult! Not the guy who's worrying so much about the taxes and the insurance and the business cards and the health and safety that (s)he never gets started at all.

Also, network. Chat to people who own businesses about what it's like, and ask for their advice. The guy in the corner shop where you buy magazines, the window cleaner, whoever. If you can get a Saturday job with someone who owns a small business, so much the better, then you'll really find out how it works.
posted by emilyw at 2:28 AM on April 27, 2010

Honestly? Set aside $200 as a repayable loan, tell him to brainstorm a small idea and pitch it to you. Get him used to the process of selling his idea and, if it sounds reasonable, lend him the money. If it's available in his area, Junior Achievement is a really great place to learn how to flesh this out.

I learned a lot in school but some of the most basic lessons I learned from lemonade stands, bracelet making and busking downtown and they've sat with me ever since. If you can find a way to get him involved in the process of starting a relatively small business, he'll learn a lot just from experience.
posted by Hiker at 3:32 AM on April 27, 2010

The set aside part would be maybe a parent or a guardian. Sorry, I think I misread the question intially.
posted by Hiker at 3:33 AM on April 27, 2010


All of this other advice is great from an adult's perspective. Really. They're just jealous though. You've heard the saying 'Rome wasn't built in a day' - businesses are the same way. Start with the resources and knowledge you have, and build as you go. The point isn't necessarily to become a billionaire with your first business (you're more likely to win the lottery), but to learn from the experience. Over time, you'll find starting another business becomes easier thanks to the knowledge you have.

Good luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:57 AM on April 27, 2010

Don't take business classes; they're wastes of time.

As someone who works in a business school, for a good number of classes, this is true.

For Entrepreneurship majors, though, it's not. The Entrepreneurship majors in the program at my school develop their business plan in their first or second year of college. By junior or senior year, they are actually launching the business. The classes Entrepreneurship majors take are real world classes on how to write up a business plan, how to present the business plan to banks so they can get funds, how to present the business plan to people who might be willing help in order to get start-up funds, etc. (www.candy.com is one example of a business that came out of the program at my school. The founders made a huge proft in their first year after graduation.)

If he's interested in starting his own business, taking some Entrepreneurship courses or majoring/minoring in Entrepreneurship along with his engineering degree, if he has a strong interest in that, may not be a bad plan. Other business fields likely won't be appropriate to someone wanting to start a business.
posted by zizzle at 7:15 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

*As someone who works in a business school, I can say for a good number of classes, this is true.*

ARRRGH to the grammar fail!
posted by zizzle at 7:16 AM on April 27, 2010

I just popped in to say that having your own business, going to college, and having a regular day-job are not necessarily mutually exclusive things. I've done work as a freelancer, and also worked on my own project ideas, while still working 9-to-5 for another company. You could also do side-jobs while going to school. A lot of businesses started off as a hobby or supplementary income that gathered momentum and grew until it became big enough to live off of.

Examples: eBay, Dilbert, Craigslist, hotornot.com, many others.
posted by Vorteks at 7:53 AM on April 27, 2010

Start now and embrace the concept of the Lean Startup. Start something that doesn't require much capital. You are young, and have plenty of energy and plenty of time to recover if you fail. Go to school at the same time to hedge yourself in case you fail. Don't spend years coming up with the perfect idea. Just get it out there. Fail miserably and do it all over again until you get it right.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:05 AM on April 27, 2010

Buy low, sell high.

I made more money an hour as a 14 year old entrepreneur than I did until I was in my twenties.

Start a business or two this summer. I mowed the lawns of people on my paper route and used their lawn mowers which meant I had no capital expenses.

I sold sandwiches and sodas at softball games. You won't lose money on sodas but if you don't sell all of your sandwiches, you will learn a painful or expensive lesson about spoilage.

There is a book The Accounting Game that is a very simple look at how to keep track of money. Your library has it.

Good luck.
posted by mearls at 9:26 AM on April 27, 2010

I'm going to focus on another part of your question: what is it that you love? You want to do something that you love and make it into a business. Well, what do you love? That should answer lots of your questions.

Some things don't really lend themselves to business, and other things you might not love after making them a business. At 16 you have lots of time to try different stuff. Start little businesses, make some mistakes, learn lots. Don't be afraid to just try. Don't overthink. Just get out and mow some lawns or develop websites for friends' parents. Whatever. Practice being a serial entrepreneur.

Going to college is good advice, but there's no need to wait till then to get started. Don't ever wait for circumstances to be perfect to start an endeavor. Start the endeavor and watch circumstances become perfect in the face of your hard work and planning.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 11:06 AM on April 27, 2010

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