Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) proclaimed that Barely Half of 30-Year-Olds Earn More Than Their Parents. The piece, written by Senior Editor Bob Davis, explains that middle class wage stagnation makes it near impossible to reverse this trend. Perhaps these four entrepreneurial lessons will prove them wrong.
Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents. Even rapid economic growth won’t do much to reverse the trend. – WSJ
There is little doubt that many will read the WSJ article and leave feeling depressed, anxious, or fearful. My hope is that this post will encourage you to think otherwise.
Wages may have stagnated, but this doesn’t mean that opportunities aren’t all around us.
I teach Corporate Strategy and Marketing classes at Vanderbilt University. Every semester, I invite entrepreneurs into the classroom to share their stories with my students, partner with student teams to address business challenges, and receive recommendations about how to improve their businesses, drive growth, and better position themselves in the marketplace.
Using these experiences as a backdrop, coupled with my own business endeavors, I offer 4 entrepreneurial lessons to encourage you to start a business tonight.
1: You know of a problem that should be solved
Last spring, Dr. Christian Hahn served as my students’ client. Dr. Hahn is a highly successful and sought after cosmetic dentist. His professional pedigree is phenomenal and his practice (Ideal Dentistry in Louisville, KY) is a tremendous success.
Despite his career path and his growing practice, Dr. Hahn’s desire to work with Vandy students had nothing to do with dentistry. It had everything to do with a problem that needed to be solved.
An avid inventor and father of three, Dr. Hahn noticed that his children, as well as nearly every child he met, had difficulty putting on swimming goggles. Inevitably, hair would get stuck, water would leak into eyes, and parents and children would become frustrated.
Most parents had simply resigned themselves to the fact that the goggle problem was part of the swimming experience. Not Dr. Hahn – he designed a new pair of goggles that children could easily put on themselves. He named his product Frogglez and offered it to the world.
Questions for you to consider:
- What problems do you see that need to be solved?
- What do you hear people complaining about or compensating for with temporary fixes?
- Is there something that annoys you about how things currently function (or fail to function)?
2: You are uniquely positioned to solve the problem
Over the last several months, my students have been working with Jen Auerbach and Adriel Danae. These ladies (pictured above and below) are the founders of the Clary Collection.
As two new mothers, Clary Collection’s co-founders were struggling to find the best way to care for their children and themselves.
Here’s how they explain the challenge and their willingness to close the gap, “Our transition into motherhood sparked many changes in us, one of which was a tuning in to our bodies as they started to function as givers of life and home to our children. This brought new awareness to our need for clean food, products and environments…Recognizing that the skin is the body’s largest organ and that it absorbs a great deal of environmental toxins, we sought out truly clean moisturizers and balms, as they were the most essential items in our skincare routines. However, we continually came up short….With curiosity and determination, we began to seek alternatives that brought us back to a time when our ancestors carried practical knowledge and crafted useful connections between what they cultivated and gathered from the earth and how they healed. We read books and began to ask questions and share ideas with friends, neighbors, midwives, grandmothers and teachers. And we started experimenting.”
Their efforts led to the creation of the Clary Collection. Recently featured in Vogue, the collection offers a balm, bath-and-body oil, nipple balm, and a stretch-mark oil. These items, made for moms – by moms, are beautiful packaged in 1930s style containers.
Clary’s founders were uniquely positioned to solve the ailments of new mothers, because they were dealing with the challenges themselves and were passionate about making a difference.
Questions for you to consider:
- What problems are you uniquely positioned to solve?
- What are you willing to devote yourself to? What are you passionate about?
- If you could spend the next 10 years fixing an issue, what would it be?
- What is your conscious telling you?
3: People will pay for the solution you provide
In 2001, my wife and I started a consulting company. Some 12 years later, we sold it. The business exceeded our expectations. Our revenue experienced double-digit growth every year, fostered an amazing culture filled with talented and passionate employees, established offices in five states, and served a wonderful portfolio of clients.
That experience taught me that people will pay for the solutions you provide as long as you solve a problem that needs to be solved.
I recently set out to prove this to my son. A first-year college student, he loves to travel, is an avid photographer, and enjoys the outdoors.
This past March, I took him and seven of his friends on a 10-day Appalachian Trail hike. It was a great experience – a true adventure. (“What I Learned When 7 Millenials Told Me to Take a Hike“)
When we returned, my son and I made signs for each boy. Using a piece of basswood (which is known for retaining its bark after the tree is cut down), we applied a trail marker just like the one we saw throughout our hike, created a process to seal the bark, and applied a hook on back to hang the object. The boys loved them.
A couple of weeks ago, my son and I launched a small Etsy shop (YearnMore) to offer these signs to others. Our thoughts, We enjoy the memories that these markers conjure up in our minds, perhaps others would like to remember past journeys too. Our products are designed to encourage others to Yearn More for Adventure.
We were right. Within a couple of days, our first order arrived, followed by another, and another. My son is now working to expand his offerings and will be adding photos he has taken on trips from Iceland to Singapore.
Questions for you to consider:
- Do you believe that people will pay for a product or service you have to offer?
- What is stopping you from finding out?
- Why don’t you invest a weekend to answering these questions?
4: The internet provides the ability to bring #2 and #3 together
We live in a truly amazing time. Unlike any generation before us, we have the ability to source products from halfway around the world, advertise them on every continent, and ship them anywhere – all without leaving our home.
Companies like Shopify, Amazon, Google, Etsy, Ebay, and a wide-range of others are working together to help you bring what you have to offer to the world. Don’t let their efforts go underused.
- What do you know about eCommerce and how you can bring your products or services to the world?
- Are you willing to invest two hours this evening or over the next weekend to learn about one or two of the existing platforms?
If you have a desire to beat the WSJ’s odds or perhaps you simply want to own something that you create yourself, I encourage you to identify a problem and work to solve it. You may be surprised at the lessons you learn along the way!