Scott H Young

The Time to Start a Business is in Your Twenties


If you’re in your twenties, unmarried and without children, now is the time to start something. Not when you’re thirty-five and need to worry about mortgage payments or saving for junior’s college education. Not after you’ve had ten years of work experience and adapted to a large salary. Today.

Many of my friends tell me their dream is to start a business. Upon graduation, these same friends go to work in a big company. Maybe I shouldn’t be cynical, and these people are really only going to work for a few years, gain some experience, pay off their debt and start that business they’ve dreamed about.

Or, more likely, these people are going to conform and fall into comfortable mediocrity.

Take More Risks in Your Twenties

I’m twenty, unmarried, childless and without a mortgage. There will never be another point in my life where I can take on the risks I can now.

If I start a new business today, what’s the worst that can happen? I could waste five years, fail to get anything going and be forced to look for a job. In that case I’d be an unemployed 25 year-old with unpaid debt. In other words, I’d be like many 25 year-olds.

However, if I start a new business when I’m 40, the risks become more noticeable. I could lose a high paying job. I could fail to provide an income for my family. I could lose my house or life savings if they were invested into the business. Worse, if I had planned to retire at 55, I may not be able to anymore.

I’m not suggesting that people in their thirties and forties shouldn’t become entrepreneurs. However, because of the investment into their current lifestyle, it will be far harder to make the switch.

My Story

My goal is to stay unemployed when I graduate. I realize this might be impossible. If I’m not earning enough to pay the bills from a business, I may need to take on temporary work.

I’ve set $20,000 as the minimum income I need to reach to stay gainfully unemployed. That’s less than half the start salary some of my recently graduated friends have been offered. That’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make.

Define Your Poverty Threshold

The minimum income I need is $20,000 per year. I could probably physically survive with less income, but this is the threshold I need to meet an acceptable lifestyle. Twenty thousand dollars per year is my poverty threshold.

Defining a poverty threshold is important because it allows you to make decisions around it. If you don’t know what your minimally acceptable income level is, you won’t make important life decisions.

Would you run a business if you knew the initial income would only be $30,000? What if it were only $15,000? Would you pick your dream job with a salary of $25,000 over a boring job that pays $75,000?

It’s difficult to make trade-offs if you don’t know how much money you actually need. Spending some time thinking of an actual number will help you make decisions when there are forks in the road.

Start Something, Even if it’s Part-Time

Who says a business needs to be a full-time pursuit? If you’re looking at a solo, lifestyle business or freelancing career, that is something you can definitely start as a part-time operation. For most of the year, I run this business part-time.

I strongly recommend part-time projects, because the learning curve can make quitting your job to start something new terrifying. Even if you’re in your twenties, you may not be looking eagerly at the prospect of having zero income while you try to launch a business.

Part-Time Reduces the Burn

Starting a part-time business lowers or eliminates your burn rate. Your burn rate is the amount of money you lose each month trying to get a business started. If you’re working on a business full-time, then your burn rate not only includes the expenses of the business, but your living expenses.

For example, if I require $2000 per month to live and operate my business, and I have $20,000 in available savings and credit, I can last 10 months. However, if I have a part-time job that pays $1500 per month, I can now last 40 months, quadrupling the time I have to make my business a successful enterprise.

The tradeoff, of course, is that by accepting part-time work, you have less time to focus on starting your business. Ultimately, whether you start something full-time or part-time is up to you.

Whether you choose part or full-time isn’t important. What matters is that you start something. If you have the dream of being self-employed, get started when you have the greatest opportunities. Don’t wait until you’re locked down with two kids and a mortgage to start aggressively pursuing your goals.


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27 Responses to “The Time to Start a Business is in Your Twenties”

  1. Kris says:

    Thanks for the piece. It makes me want to get out and start something.

    What do you think about brick-and-mortar businesses? They’re much more costly to start up, and there’s no way I could get approved for that kind of loan in my twenties. Also, impossible to do part-time.

  2. Andy says:

    Overall, I agree and I appreciate the encouragement to start something.

    Though I think it may be a bit harsh to call people who work at jobs ‘mediocre.’

  3. Wow, Scott! You’ve really inspired me. I’ve been thinking about starting a business for a long time and I was almost on the verge of doing it when the economy took a really bad turn. I guess I shouldn’t let me down and I should stay motivated. This article has really made me realize what a great spot I’m in (young, driven, childless, and without a ton of commitments). Now is the time! I need to really put this post into action. Thanks for writing it.

  4. Gert says:

    Thanks for the great post, Scott! Very true.

    I’m 20, have a great job,and have started a (part-time) business 8 months ago, and even though it’s hard work and I’m not making profit yet, I’m learning something new every day!

    Even in the worst case scenario, I’ll have gained SO much experience from it!

  5. I wouldn’t of been able to start a business in my twenties. I needed to discover who I was, to trust myself. I also find it hard to be fully motivated when there’s not much to lose. Call it “comfort level for inaction”. :)

    My wife and I started our business in our thirties. We have a child, a mortgage and I quit my full-time job in the midst of it all (after 12 years). I can attest that everything has more meaning when there’s so much more to lose.

  6. Spencer says:

    Scott

    I work a full time JOB and make fabulous money doing it. Now, that doesn’t mean I like it. No, that means I put up with it because I like the money more than the JOB.

    Having attempted businesses AND FAILED a few times, I am jaded. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes there are thorns and stickers. After a while of getting poked, you begin to avoid the pain.

    I still yearn to have my own business and have no idea how I could go from zero to where I am now with a JOB. It really isn’t worth the risk, stress, and divorce. I will remain employeed and seek something on the side.

    What I have found is a great opportunity with sendoutcards.com to help me satisfy my need to have a business without the risk. It’s fun and something that I believe has value for others interested. That is what makes this (part time) opportunity worth it for me.

    Great article!

  7. MC says:

    Good stuff.

    23, graduated, off for a year, bout to start Web development business with a friend. Gona do it while i dont have a full time job which i want, eventually this will be a sort of second income. Didnt really plan to do this (having year off and starting business) but its kind of working out.

  8. Scott Young says:

    Spencer,

    Undoubtedly self-employment isn’t for everyone. Nor is it always preferable to having a job. There are crappy self-employment careers and fantastic jobs.

    My point is that, if you are passionate about entrepreneurship, getting started when you’re younger and the mistakes are less costly is smart.

    Kris,

    I’m a fan of online as a distribution channel because of the low fixed and variable costs involved. That doesn’t mean I believe it is the exclusive domain for new businesses, but just a style I prefer.

    -Scott

  9. Demour. says:

    So, you give business advice despite not having a business, you give motivational advise, yet your own goal is to remain unemployed and you outlay the risks of being 40 and attmepting to try something, despite being in your early 20’s

    Kudos

  10. Maureen says:

    Any age is a good time to start your own business if that’s what you want.

    I don’t agree with your *basic* premise that the optimal time to start a business is in your twenties. All sorts of people – of all ages – start and run success businesses.

  11. Jen says:

    Interesting article! I think at 20 I would have been way too confused and afraid to start my own thing, but now, at age 29, I did finally make the leap to start my own business. I agree that without the stresses of kids (I do have a mortgage, but it’s small) this decision was much, much easier to make. The only person I’m responsible for is myself, and I am so happy I made the leap!

  12. Joe Fier says:

    This is some great advice and insight, Scott. There is only so much time you could spend talking, thinking, and researching how you want to start your own business and be your own boss. A great way to impress yourself and the friends around you that have heard your dreams from time and time again is to take action. I am 24 and am just about to graduate from college and have started my own online business with my friend. For all of those who don’t think they have enough money to start their own business, start looking around online; there are an endless amount of avenues to make money out there and take hold of your own life!

  13. Dana says:

    I agree that getting an early start on your own business is a plus. I (in my thirties) encourage any college student or recent college graduate to pursue what you love instead of settling for a 9-5 in a cube farm.

    However, hind sight is always 20/20. I am benefiting from my 10 years experience in corporate America and applying all lessons learned to my own company. I own a very small business that I operate part time with the intent to switch to full time when the time is right for me. In 10 years, I’ve learned a lot of things; mostly what NOT to do in business. I (like a previous poster) was not ready to own my own business right out of high school or college. I needed the exposure to what I didn’t want out of life to help me develop more clearly what I did want. I wouldn’t change my path if I could. I’m happy with where I’ve been, but very excited about where I will go.

  14. Scott Young says:

    Demour,

    I’ve run this as a small online business for over three years. While I can’t give advice on how to set up a multimillion dollar enterprise, I can offer a few points from my experiences in setting up microbusinesses, which is the argument of this post as well. But, if you don’t like the blog, there are plenty of other authors you can read.

    Dana,

    Obviously, more experience helps. And many people won’t have that necessary experience in your twenties. But, I think it is easier to gain that experience starting a business in your twenties, even if it is an eventual flop.

    Good luck with your business!

    Joe,

    Online is a great distribution channel, because it is easy to scale and the fixed costs are so low. I would never have been able to start this business if I needed to put $10,000 down.

    -Scott

  15. Alejandro Sierra says:

    Hi Scott. I am over 40 so I want to believe that at my age still is possible to start a successful business. You are just 20, off course that’s beyond your expericence.

    Have fun. :)

  16. Akon says:

    What’s with all the antagonism toward full-time employment? “9-5 cube farm” is a juvenile cliche that only becomes a reality for the truly lazy and unambitious. There can be a huge growth potential within a company (especially large ones) or industry (as opportunities also increase with experience) compared to the limitations of your own experience.

    Consider: Even at the zenith of your own success, a one-man army can only do so much. Sooner or later, you will eventually find yourself a part of a company of many people, even if it is your own. At that point, all the politics of other people many “entrepreneurs” seek to avoid through working for themselves are back into play.

    If you’re in your 20s, recently graduated, and want to grow, you may find far more fertile soil within the right company rather than trying to keep the wolves away out on your own.

    While there may be a few inspiring individual entrepreneur success stories out there, in reality the majority are small groups of people who combine their mutual experience from early years invested in learning the ropes at “Big Corporate” to create a new venture that can actually fly on more than a naive pipe dream.

    I would hazard to say that the failures are typically those with absolutely no experience or realistic expectations to anchor their “entrepreneurial” dreams on, who have to find out the hard way that it takes a lot more than just an idea and the will to go for it to succeed — #1 being the connections and relationships that you build by working with great people on significant projects with challenging demands for large companies in a competitive industry — NOT by twiddling your thumbs sitting at home alone being proud of living “professionally unemployed” below the poverty line just because you’ve rigged up Google Ad words to cover the rent on a crappy basement apartment.

    If you aim that low, be careful: you might just hit the mark.

    What about the cases where the 20 year old that avoided working for 5-10 years by doing mediocre freelance work finally realizes that he’s “wasted” a decade of potential learning and experience within a company? At 30, his resume is pretty weak compared to those who’ve had their heads down, paying their dues, and growing into something.

    I agree that your 20s is the time to try many things and figure it out, but I don’t agree that time spent learning valuable skills and building even more valuable experience and connections at a great company is “settling” for the “mediocre” approach.

    Beware the entrepreneurial enthusiasm that winds up being the “job satisfaction” equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme. There seems to be a trend in this generation to want it all now, and refuse to “settle” for having to work up from the bottom first.

    My message to recent grads reading this would be: Nothing in life comes easy, and hard work is rarely fun – but it DOES pay off. Don’t balk at an entry-level job just because it means having to put some time in before you see the rewards, because those rewards are meant for those who persevere.

    Better to learn that at 20 than 30, IMO.

    Cheers for the great article.

  17. Scott Young says:

    Akon,

    As I said, entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. There are definite advantages to working a corporate job, if that’s where your interests are. To each his own.

    My point was simply that IF you are passionate about entrepreneurship, the time to gain experience is in your 20s. It wasn’t meant specifically as an attack on life within a big firm, which has it’s own set of rewards and challenges.

    As for earning levels, I wouldn’t consider just barely surviving to be success, but it is a first milestone. I’ve found, through personal experience and from my friends who have online businesses, that the entry-level income is much lower than with a firm, but income growth is also much easier to attain (although it depends).

    -Scott

  18. Jen says:

    Hi Scott
    Love your articles, thank you for your contributions.
    Felt I had to leave a comment on this article, because on one hand I agree – being in my early 30’s I can see in hindsight in my 20’s I had less financial commitments etc, however I also (personally) had less confidence and clarity of what I wanted to do. Personally I would say whatever your age…the time is NOW to start whatever it is you want to do….

  19. tpkeefe says:

    The notion that you should start the business when you’re in your 20s assumes that one is going to follow the standard route to what someone should be doing in their 30s and 40s. I’m 37 and thinking of starting my own business in the next few years, but I’m not married and childless. Nor do I have the desire to have a wife and kids at all.

  20. Scott Young says:

    tpkeefe,

    Completely true. If you don’t want to have kids and a family, your life plan will change. I think that many (but definitely not all) people are looking to one day start a family, with the biological limitations meaning that will need to happen in the 30s and 40s.

    Good luck to you!

    -Scott

  21. [...] this is why I believe the best time to start a business is in your twenties. Not always the case, but finding time to start something is a lot easier when you’re used to [...]

  22. [...] you accept this, it means that your single and childless years are probably a better-than-average time for starting something remarkable (that requires a lot of [...]

  23. [...] I’ve said before that anyone in their twenties with the itch to start a business should be doing so now. Because you have the time, energy and probably don’t have mortgage [...]

  24. Hey Scott,

    Like the post, and it’s very similar to how I think. As a recent college grad working on a few side projects and working part time I also am aware of the poverty threshold and think it’d be stupid to not start something at this age since there isn’t much to lose. This is the first time I’ve been at your site… when do you graduate?

    Ryan

  25. Scott Young says:

    Ryan,

    In one year.

    -Scott

  26. samuel says:

    please i need a business idea that can help me and my family to come.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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