Why young entrepreneurs have it easier than the CEO of Merrill Lynch

ceo merrilll lynchSallie Krawcheck, former CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and current CEO/Co-Founder of Ellevest, recently wrote an article on LinkedIn about why you should NOT quit your job to start your own company. She had compelling reasons and wrote a wonderful story, drawing from her own experiences. I applaud entrepreneurs like her who tell it like it is; owning your own company, even a successful one, is not a walk in the park.

However, I believe that young entrepreneurs may not need to heed Sallie’s advice. In fact, I believe young entrepreneurs have it easier when starting a company than Sallie in many ways, and here’s why:

Our networks are better:

Sallie rightfully mentioned that hiring is hard. I would never take that away from her – it is one of truest statements I’ve ever heard about the business world. However, her additional point is that she had a very hard time hiring specifically because her networks were filled with corporate types who either did not understand the idea of a startup, didn’t like startup culture, or commanded too high a salary to make it feasible to hire them.

Young entrepreneurs don’t have that problem (or at least face it far less often). Many of our friends are not corporate types, and even if they are, they are not so accustomed to corporate life that they wouldn’t move for a startup whose mission they believe in. In fact, younger corporate types are getting sick of the drone of corporate life and moving to startups. For the millennial generation, being inspired by a corporate mission and being part of the solution are more important than money, two things a startup can offer over a corporate job. When it comes to finding top young talent to join a startup that A. doesn’t pay well and B. doesn’t have the same culture as a large corporation, millennials have an easier time leveraging their networks to find other people to take the plunge.

People want to help us:

Everywhere you look, “young entrepreneur” programs are popping up. In my native Ontario, Canada, the government alone has millions of dollars up for grabs (some grants, some low interest loans) for startups whose owners are under 30 years old. Sallie Krawcheck does not have that luxury. Sure, she has her own money from working as CEO of Merrill Lynch (and her entire corporate career to that point), but there’s something else that our “young entrepreneur” programs come with besides cash that Sallie doesn’t get as easily: mentorship.

When you’re young, successful senior executives, entrepreneurs, and political figures will give you tons of advice and spend their time to help guide you. Is this advice always helpful? No. What you do get, however, is the time, intellect, and sometimes pocketbook/contact book of some of the most powerful and well-connected people in the world. Sallie might have access to some of these folks too – she calls them friends and colleagues – but the mentor relationship that young entrepreneurs are handed by virtue of their youth has a value far beyond a casual friend you ask for advice.

Everybody’s a critic, but who cares?:

People want to see Sallie Krawcheck fail. She is a corporate woman who already broke through multiple glass ceilings to become the head of one of the world’s largest banks, and now she is creating a digital investment platform for women. If she fails at this, many of her opponents will smugly be able to claim that her success was only owed to affirmative action in the corporate world. She is right to be scared, not only from the huge lifestyle shift she went through, but also for the amount of negativity in the world being directed squarely at her because she is a high-powered woman who left the top spot at a global bank to start a company dedicated to other women.

Young entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are seen as the “future” of their respective regions/countries, and folks want to see them succeed. While there will always be naysayers of all entrepreneurship (and young people trying to do something new), the broad sentiment is very positive towards young people working to build a business. Mentor programs are widely available, accelerators and incubators are popping up all over the place (in big cities and small towns), and there are even some small and mid-sized companies that have in-house “incubators” to build and develop their employees’ ideas for a share of future profits.

With all this in mind, I must note that Sallie brings up legitimate points about entrepreneurship that should not be ignored. Namely, it is terrifying to not have your calls answered/responded to at any age or experience level, particularly when your next meal depends on it. Office culture at a new startup is NOTHING like in the movies or the few billion-dollar valuation venture-backed startups you hear about in the news. She also makes a stinging point about how you can never coast – so stop your delusions now.

However, Sallie had an entire career ascending the corporate ladder with all the social expectations that come from that. She is now venturing out on her own and saying goodbye to a lifetime of corporate work for a brand new lifestyle. Not to mention, she grew up in a time when leaving a safe corporate job to start your own company (much less one focused on women) was unheard of. Young entrepreneurs have none of this. Societal expectations put on us imply we are entitled brats who want too much from the previous generation. Older folks think that all we care about is foosball, beer on tap, and making a ton of money. And the world is on a precipice, teetering further towards the edge into a world we’ve never seen before.

For young entrepreneurs, I can’t think of a better way to simultaneously buck all negative expectations of our generation and try to solve some pressing issues in the world than to start a business, and the world wants to see us succeed, too.


Stefan is a diversity and inclusion consultant and Founder of Ziversity. He has a number of years of experience in the HR/diversity recruiting space, starting with his research at Yale University and continuing through numerous non-profit positions. He blogs about diversity, inclusion, tech, startups, and cultural commentary. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios. Business inquiries can be sent to stefan@ziversity.com.

Originally posted on ziversity.com

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