I’ll be 80 in September. You’re likely thinking, “Wow, that’s old,” but I’m happy to report that life as an entrepreneur has kept me young. In fact, thanks to a portfolio of investments and ventures such as Dogtopia, I’m just as busy today as when I started down the entrepreneurial path in my early 20s.
I think it’s because when you’re a businessperson, it’s in your blood. It’s not something you turn off suddenly. Similarly, it’s not something you turn on with a flick of a switch. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’d like to be an entrepreneur one day,” the question is: Why aren’t you one already?
Young entrepreneurs are easy to recognize. They’re the neighbourhood kids with lemonade stands and lawn mowers. They have passion and vision — sometimes before they even have a driver’s licence. They’re the university and college students who open their first businesses while still in school.
I believe today’s turbulent world needs these people more than ever. We need their energy. We need their new ideas. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who’s looking to change the world, I’m writing this to help and encourage you, because this life isn’t always easy. It’s difficult and often exasperating, with no guarantee of fame or fortune, but the rewards outweigh the risk if you position yourself for success.
Figure out who you are
A lot of growing up is figuring out who you are as a person. I find the same to be true as an entrepreneur. Before you can build a business, you need a foundation of values to build on. Values are your personal principles — they represent what matters most to you. When you know your values, you can use them to navigate through life. Your decisions become clearer, and you spend far less time wondering what you should do, how you should act, what’s right and what’s wrong.
What’s impressed me most about today’s youth is just how in touch they are with their values. In my day the goal was always, “I’m going to make a bunch of money,” but today’s young entrepreneurs are thinking, “I’m going to change the world.” As Chairman Emeritus for Entrepreneurs’ Organization, I recently had the pleasure of judging the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, where the finalists’ business ideas included such initiatives as creating 100 per cent biodegradable bioplastic, reducing water consumption in industrial farming and, from Canadian finalist Andre Bertram, a wearable heart monitoring system that can detect when users suffer a heart attack and automatically contact EMS.
Like these young entrepreneurs, you need to focus on the ideas you’re most passionate about. In my personal experience, success always feels empty unless your actions align with what you value most in life.
Start the learning process
In his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey gives the advice: “Begin with the end in mind.” It means of course to start each day, task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination.
Students, extending that piece of wisdom to how it might help you, I believe it’s important for young people to start their careers with the end in mind. Although your current financial situation might make that difficult or even impossible, having a summer job or internship will help you learn more about the specific business or industry you’re interested in. The closer you can get to experiencing what your future will look like, the better.
Get yourself a mentor
If you have ambition of climbing the corporate ladder or running your own company one day, you need to understand the problems at the very top of your business. When you’re just starting out, it’s too easy to lose focus on everyday tasks. You need someone who can help you see the big picture and visualize what success looks like in five, 10, even 20 years into the future.
In addition to finding a trusted mentor inside your company or industry, don’t underestimate the value of a “virtual” mentor. Tapping a resource such as the Entrepreneurs’ Organization can connect you with a global network of entrepreneurs, helping you learn and grow through peer-to-peer advice.
As your English teacher may have told you in high school, you can also find wisdom in books. Just as aspiring writers hone their craft through reading classic novels, endeavouring entrepreneurs should read up on their historical heroes. I can’t tell you how much knowledge I extracted from reading about personal mentors such as Gandhi, JFK, Martin Luther King and Ernest Hemingway.
Finally, if I can leave you with one last piece of advice, it’s “Get out there and start making money.” Life is short (even when you have lived to 80), and the world needs fresh new ideas.
• Peter Thomas is a leading franchisor, developer and lender, and has developed billions of dollars in real estate projects. He is Chairman Emeritus of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and past chairman and founder of Century 21 Real Estate Canada Ltd. He and some partners have acquired a franchise company called Dogtopia, which they feel will revolutionize the doggy daycare business.