Why New Graduates Should Consider Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneur Scott Gerber on thinking outside the corporate box and tips for starting a business.

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[See And On the Side, I'm an Entrepreneur.]

Can you tell us about your background? How'd you become the go-to person on young entrepreneurship?

Five years ago … I'd just come out of my first venture that was successful. My previous venture, which I detail in my book, Never Get a Real Job, basically shows how I took a company that was making tens of thousands of dollars a month in revenue down to bankruptcy, and only having $700 left to my name. Using that education, I built my next business called Sizzle It!. Two years later [my column in Entrepreneur Magazine] became pretty much the world's most syndicated youth entrepreneurship column ... The entire time I've done this has been based on businesses that are not [virtual like] Facebook, but companies like yearbook businesses or video-production firms. That's my background: I build brick-and-mortar services businesses.

Do you feel comfortable telling us how you earn your income?

I have percentages in various businesses that I have either personally started or invested in that range from yearbook and video-production firms to restaurant groups that I've invested in … It's all across the board.

I'm doing a lot more media-personality work … But my original businesses support me and my family very handsomely … Definitely Sizzle It! [accounts for much of my income]. But as for where my focus lies today, I kind of oversee [Sizzle It!], but The Young Entrepreneur Council [which is a non-profit] truly is going to be my main focus going forward.

How old are you?

Twenty-seven.

For anyone interested in going the entrepreneurial route, what's a good way to get started?

Remove your ego from the equation entirely. A lot of these people that saw The Social Network [movie] think if they and their buddy get in a bar and write something on a napkin, they're going to be billionaires. There's many things wrong with that. We have to tell young people today, it's not about the glitz, the glamour, and the sexiness, it's about building something that can sustain you, your family, and your partnerships. If you become a multi-millionaire, wonderful, but it's not going to happen overnight. And chances are, it might never happen, and if it does, it's built on extreme hard work and a sound business.

I will never advocate against tech, but speaking from my personal experience, because I'm not a tech guy, I will say that in this economy, it makes sense more than ever to build a simple service that is scalable over time that you can be selling day one instead of day 50, verses having to first figure out what you're going to code … By utilizing simple, easy online software and service tools, let's say Weebly to build your website, [you can] really build your business over time and then reinvest based on cash flow.

Never expect money. Don't build businesses around finances, don't build businesses around theoretical investment dollars … Until you prove your business works, no one's going to want to give you money.

[See Think Startups are Fueling the Recovery? Not So Much.]

Some people would say it makes sense for most new graduates to gain experience in the traditional workforce before starting their own company. Do you think there's any truth in that?

If I wanted to learn about Robert's Rules of Order and being a third-tier assistant to the marketing firm, then yes, that would be wonderful.

The folks in the corporate world will say you can get structure and relationships and mentorship. Well, frankly, the structure doesn't make sense to an entrepreneurial life. The mentorship, you can be crafty and scrappy and try to get lunches like I did. I never had any sort of corporate experience. I never worked for anybody in my entire career other than myself. And when I wanted to find out information or meet someone, I either tried to partner with somebody, or I took people out to lunch, and that $50 education was more than I probably could've gotten in working two years of corporate experience.

I've seen corporate people who try to run their startups like the corporate background they come from, and those fail miserably. Because they're expecting somebody's internal budget to cover [costs] … Those kinds of mentalities do not translate.