Young Entrepeneurs Inventing Jobs

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New college grads and young Americans finding no jobs—and making their own.

Participants in a Startup Weekend work in groups to create a new business on Saturday evening in New York, June 12, 2010. (AP /Elizabeth Fuller)
Participants in a Startup Weekend work in groups to create a new business on Saturday evening in New York, June 12, 2010. (AP /Elizabeth Fuller)

It’s been a hell of a time to be coming out of school, looking for work. Only one if four college grads this year who applied for a job had one lined up on graduation day.

A fierce economic bust has burned up a lot of first hopes. But youth is resilient - not to say desperate – and a determined stripe of young Americans are simply making their own jobs. They are cleaning gutters, writing software, baking cookies, starting companies.

The roll-your-own road to work is not easy, but with alternatives scarce, many are trying.

We speak with young Americans creating their own jobs.
-Tom Ashbrook

Scott Gerber, 27, founder and CEO of Gerber Enterprises.  His new company is “Sizzle It!” which makes short promotional videos. He's also founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council. His new book is "Never Get a “Real” Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business & Never Go Broke."

Morgan First, 27, founder of Motion Affair Planner (MAP) Boston, a local city guide and planner, of Second Glass, a wine events company that uses mobile and web technology to help people try new wines, remember what they're drinking and share that info with friends.

Alicia Ambler, 27, launched her “Rosie’s Best” brand of organic baked goods on the online marketplace Etsy. It’s made and packaged in her home kitchen. Her blog is “Culinary Bliss.”

Corey Griffin, 21, is co-owner, with his father, of Basic Green Cleaning Services.

An excerpt from Scott Gerber's "Never Get a 'Real' Job":

“Scott, when are you going to get a real job?”

With those words, my mother had decided to bring up the question for what seemed like the millionth time—a question that had become the dreaded, bane-of-my-existence conversation starter, one that felt like root canal surgery without the Novocain every time I heard it. Even though I had fought hard to win this discussion countless times before, she simply wouldn’t let the topic die.

Being one year out of an expensive university without a “real” job to show for it gave my steady-paycheck, benefits-loving, schoolteacher mother heart palpitations. Granted, I wasn’t making much money at the time—but I certainly wasn’t living on the streets begging for change, either. My start-up company was generating a modest income—comparable to most entry-level positions—and was enabling me to feed myself, pay my rent, and socialize like any other normal twenty-something-year-old. And although I was busting my ass, hustling my way into pitch meetings with Fortune 500 companies, every time I heard my name in the same sentence with the phrase “real” job—which, according to my mother, meant one with a specific title in which I worked for someone else—well, it was almost as if none of my hard work mattered.

Fear of deviation from the straight-arrow path drove my mother to constantly ask this question of me. And the only way she could calm her fears was to try to scare the hell out of me and to point out why my life choices were unequivocally flawed.

“One day you’re going to have a family. How are you going to support them? You’ll want a nice house. You’ll have to pay a mortgage,” she cautioned frequently.

The tone of this discussion changed regularly, usually shifting between loud and louder. However, the main points were always consistent:

“What are you doing with your life?”

“Why did I send you to college?”

“How do you plan to make a living?”

Frustrated and standing my ground, we’d begin the big debate.

“I know what I’m doing,” I would reply. “Just because I don’t work 9-to-5 like you doesn’t mean I’m not making a living.”

She’d respond with an apples-to-oranges comparison. “Your friends are all moving forward in their lives. They all have good jobs and are building their careers. I don’t understand why you can’t do the same.”

I’d throw in some sharp-tongued sarcastic comment criticizing her values.

“You taught me to be a leader, not a follower. Didn’t you? Or was that only meant to be applied to every other aspect of my life?”

My mother would inevitably try to end the debate with an existential-sounding proverb of her own design meant to illuminate my foolish train of thought.

“You don’t want to wake up one day and see that life has passed you by, do you?”

But it never ended there.

This argument was a test of wills; it could go on for five minutes, or five hours. But after all of the pointless back-and-forth banter and skyrocketing blood pressure, the exchange only resulted in a stalemate—and fueled similar debates later.

There is a good reason that becoming an entrepreneur feels so natural to so many of us. Whether they realize it or not—and as I pointed out to my mother during these trying discussions—our parents and our teachers encouraged us to be that way. Years of lauding and back-patting ingrained in us the notion that we could conquer the world. Ironically, what our mentors neglected to teach us was how to actually live that lifestyle. And the thought of us not getting a job terrifies them. Why? Because our parents learned from our grandparents that a job—preferably a “safe” one, with benefits and a pension—was necessary for survival.

But while our parents and teachers may have felt comforted by this security, rarely was it what they actually wanted from their careers. Naturally, they wanted us to pursue our dreams at all costs—sometimes even to the point of risking poverty to put us through college. The problem is that they didn’t know truly how to help us get there; and if they didn’t know how to survive as entrepreneurs themselves, then how could they teach us to avoid getting a “real” job? They couldn’t; so we didn’t learn. And our education system doesn’t fill in that gap. In fact, it’s meant to teach us to be employees. So when we graduate, we’re made to believe that our choices are to get a “real” job—or to hit the highway.

Rather than chalk my mother’s encouragement up as another bedtime story, I chose the highway—and set out to learn the practical skills and tricks necessary to become what she dreamed I would be. These are the lessons I will now teach you.

Who needs the 9-to-5?
he mere thought of living the conventional 9-to-5 life plan—creating wealth for “The Man” instead of for myself—made me want to reach simultaneously for a bottle of Xanax and vodka. Cubicle farms, incompetent bosses, strict dress codes, and inane corporate acronyms crammed into a potentially 50- to 60-hour workweek that was out of my control—in exchange for a paycheck that barely covered expenses—it all sounded like torture. And it wasn’t for me. So I simply made up my mind that I was never going to get a “real” job. I’d find a way to make it on my own and create a life of my own design.

I just needed to figure out how the hell to do that.

I took a trip to the local bookstore during my sophomore year of college to find some material written by entrepreneurial peers who could offer me practical insights. After hours upon hours of reading book jackets and tables of contents, the sheer volume of redundant business-plan books and mundane start-up how-to guides overwhelmed me. There were countless books promising quick fixes and instant millions. There were dense dissertations packed with MBA jargon from hoity-toity academic theorists; more than a fair share of war story autobiographies from famous rock star entrepreneurs; and boatloads of overly glamorized soft covers that made entrepreneurship sound as if readers were guaranteed success if they just “set their minds to it.”

There wasn’t, however, a single, practical book written by a twenty-something-year-old with whom I could identify. Not one book in the entire store by a down-to-earth, Generation Y business owner who had turned the nothing they started with into something they wanted.

I didn’t want to learn to incorporate a business or write a business plan; this was hardly insider information, and could be found almost anywhere online anyway. I wanted solid, real-life advice from a peer who understood where I was and what I needed to do to build a business—not just a theoretical plan on paper. With the hope that my assumptions were wrong—and the feeling that I had to buy something to get myself on track—I purchased a few titles.

Sadly, I wasn’t wrong. And I ended up $75.65 poorer as a result.

Most of the books I bought were repetitive and wholly unrealistic for aspiring entrepreneurs. I began to wonder if any of these so-called business experts had ever even met a college student, recent grad, or young person looking to start his or her own business before. Ask friends and family for start-up capital? The author might as well have said, “Good luck, but if daddy doesn’t have deep pockets, don’t even bother. Get a ‘real’ job, punk.” Apply for bank loans and credit lines to gain access to operating capital? Sure, because so many of us have outstanding credit and have already paid off all of our debts and student loans. Yeah, right.

I might not have had a pot to piss in, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to quit because some blowhard authors had penned one-size-fits-all approaches to starting a business in exchange for an advance check from a publisher and an expert credential to headline their blogs.

No matter. Nothing was going to stop me from fulfilling the promise I had made to myself—not even being clueless about how to start a business.

With barely a dollar to my name and no resources to guide me, I did what I thought any half-cocked, passionate, ambitious, impulse-driven know-it-all would do: I got started and figured it out for myself. Crazy? Perhaps. But in the end, my decision and subsequent hard work paid off tenfold. Sure, there were nights I went hungry and days I nearly starved. But as the months and years passed, I found ways to feed myself quite well—all without a suitable guidebook. Fortunately, you won’t have to face the same situation; it’s a problem I’ve now remedied for you with Never Get a “Real” Job.

This program aired on December 15, 2010.


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