With our April cover star Iris Apfel proving brilliantly that age is never a barrier to success, it’s clear that we here at Collective Hub love to champion rule breakers.
Another anti-ageist from the opposite end of the spectrum, Victor Zhang began his entrepreneurial journey at age 12, selling Cadbury chocolates to customers at the strain station. Due to a lack of support for business ideas at his age and a frustration with the school curriculum, the then 16 year-old Victor, along with Alex Luo founded Generation Entrepreneur to help support the entrepreneurial pathway of young people.
“Australia has so many exceptionally talented young individuals,” Victor explains, “but they don’t have the entrepreneurial mindset to actually change the world. They’ve never been exposed to entrepreneurial thinking outside the constraints of traditional education. Many young entrepreneurs have been sheltered and have yet to realise their own capabilities.”
Initially, the project started as a school group attempting to create entrepreneurial awareness and now, as an established accelerator for young people, puts students through their paces at events like Initiate 48 event that support students to act as entrepreneurs themselves, with Generation Entrepreneur connecting the innovative idea makers to mentors in attempts to make the ideas a reality. Victor’s creation proves that there are no limits at the crossroads of age and ideas: the road is as long as you’re willing to walk it.
Here, Victor talks the limitlessness of age, the importance of perseverance and the indispensability of a good, supportive mentor.
Do you think you can ever be too young to be an entrepreneur?
People often associate entrepreneurs as business owners, but I believe entrepreneurs can be anyone with a vision to change the world around them in some way. They are people who are bold enough to challenge the status quo and also driven enough to get moving on their mission.
This criteria doesn’t require you to even be an adult. In fact, sometimes the older you are, the more likely you are to lose this vision. Teenagers with a dream to build something can certainly be entrepreneurs.
How is being a young (teenage age, say) entrepreneur an advantage?
It is much easier for younger entrepreneurs to stand out and attract attention. This makes it easier for them to find mentors, rally support and get to places. This ability to attain new opportunities can be pivotal to their development as an entrepreneur, and propel them to a jet stream of further opportunities.
At the same time, I’ve worked with other young entrepreneurs who were not taken as seriously for being young. Last year, I met a very determined young entrepreneur who went to the United States to incorporate his company, as he was unable to incorporate or become a director due to being underage (in Australia law).
What particular obstacles have you faced in getting your business off the ground due to your young age?
Overall, I would say a lack of experience and credibility due to our youth. This has led to many unusual scenarios all the way from people stealing our company name and threatening for equity, to not being taken seriously when searching for corporate sponsorship.
Looking backward, I appreciate all these obstacles as they have created a very steep learning curve for me when the issues were not as profound.
In the personality ‘toolkit’ of a young entrepreneur, what do you need to have?
Perseverance – the ability to keep going at it again and again. You will definitely run into walls and get knocked backwards. Sometimes, everything around you may fail and they all seem to happen at once, almost as if the world is telling you that you should give up being an entrepreneur. However, perseverance is the trait of a successful young entrepreneur because often everything will begin working out if you are able to persevere through the difficulties.
Willingness to learn – they need to have an open mindset and be a quick learner. You can almost compare it to the concept of validated learning, where a start-up’s survival depends significantly on their ability to learn and adapt, as quickly as possible. An open and adaptive personality is crucial for young entrepreneurs so they can quickly learn from their failures and bounce back at it from another angle.
Do you think teenagers and young people deal with failure in different ways to adults?
Yes, to a small extent they do. Young people lack the experience that adults have when dealing with failure. They may respond more erratically and allow emotions to take over their rational decision making.
At the same time, young people have less to risk when it comes to failure. They have more time and less restriction than adults, hence prompting them to approach failure from a more positive light. Young entrepreneurs are more inclined and have more incentive to persevere in the face of failure.
Tell us about the role of mentors in building a successful young entrepreneur.
Mentors are invaluable to a successful young entrepreneur.
I’ve had many mentors over the past five years from a diverse range of backgrounds who have not only advised me on building start-ups, but also guided my personal development.
The biggest quality that young entrepreneurs lack but also require is experience. Having a range of mentors around you alleviates this issue, as you can draw upon their many years of experience when making decisions.
Is there any risk of getting in over your head when you’re a young entrepreneur?
It really depends on the individual, but I don’t believe this is a significant issue – although young people could be more susceptible to being misled by small successes.
I know of an entrepreneur who was incredibly determined and passionate, receiving significant media coverage that made him even more tenacious. He later put that in perspective and realised that he had yet to achieve any large success. I believe one’s ability to critically analyse their situation will help resolve this problem.
It’s been two years since you began your journey. Are there any things you’d do differently if you were starting over again now, in 2016?
1. Moved faster.
I remember throughout my early teenage years, I was the only entrepreneur I knew. This atmosphere subconsciously discouraged me because I wasn’t pushed and growing as a result of the people around me. This meant that I moved much slower and achieved much less than I could potentially have. If I could start over again, I would have improved my focus and put more time into execution, rather than waiting to grow up.
2. Dreamed bigger.
Larger dreams lead to larger realities. Whatever dreams you pursue, you are going to take smaller, actionable steps towards them. Throughout my schooling years, I had some larger dreams than my peers and made progress towards them. However, I realised that if I dreamed even bigger, I would have taken steps towards those even bigger dreams. I now honestly believe that young people can achieve the extraordinary which may seem to be impossible.