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Millennial women are over the idea of conventional career paths. Increasingly, women of a certain age—some 30 million of us aged 19 to 35, to be specific—are redefining when and how we reach professional mega-success. For some, that means making their passions profitable; for others, it means skipping college to pursue a dream. But for each of these six young entrepreneurs, forgoing a traditional corporate career paid off—but it took discipline, hard lessons, and learning to balance major responsibilities at an age when most of us are still figuring out our college majors (or which high-school classes to take).
Learn from, and be inspired by, these six talented and ambitious young women, each of whom launched booming businesses in their teens and 20s.
Jessica Scorpio, Founder and Director of Marketing, Getaround
At age 21, Scorpio, now 29, founded Getaround, an on-demand ride-sharing marketplace that lets you rent cars from people nearby using your smartphone. One thousand cars on Getaround can offset 100 million pounds of carbon pollution—a much-needed innovation in our terrifyingly fast-changing climate. Last year, Getaround launched in 10 cities and raised more than $40 million in funding and tens of millions in revenue. Scorpio shared some insights with us about her experience.
On the career advice she would give her younger self:
Start young and work really hard in your 20s to set up your career. Read more and meditate to develop your mind. Hustle and believe in yourself.
On being a woman in technology:
If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said that being a woman had no effect on my career, positive or negative. As I get a little older, I have recognized that there are some challenges to being a woman in tech, but more importantly, I’ve started to recognize a strategic advantage. Investors, customers, and partners like that we have a balanced and diverse leadership team. I also get to play a big role in pushing our team to hire other amazing women. Because I’m a woman, I’m more driven to succeed and tell my story to inspire other women.
On where she sees herself in 10 years:
Global car-sharing domination! Kidding—sort of. I still really feel like Getaround is just getting started, so it’s really hard for me to even think about what may be next. I can say that, no matter what I do next, I’d like to continue working on projects that have a positive global impact.
On the tough-love advice she’d give to women who want to start their own companies:
There are three things any woman setting out to start her own company needs to know. First, it’s going to be more work than you think, so get ready to hustle. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that you won’t succeed, but that will definitely not happen without an incredible amount of hard work. Second, surround yourself with brilliant people. There’s no way that you will have all answers, and that’s OK, so focus on identifying your strengths and then have an an amazing team to take care of the rest. Finally, take care of yourself. Working on something so intensely can be pretty draining, and it’s easy to put yourself second. It’s really important to eat well, exercise, and take breaks when you need them. You won’t be doing anyone any favors if you burn yourself out.
Alexa Hirschfeld, President and Cofounder, Paperless Post
Now age 32, Hirschfeld was just 23 when she started working on Paperless Post with her brother, James. At 25, the siblings launched the custom card and invitation company, which now has more than 100 million users. Hirschfeld oversees a team of more than 50 staffers and has been named one of Fortune’s “10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs,” Fast Company’s “Most Influential Women in Technology,” and Forbes’s “30 Under 30.” Hirschfeld let us in on some of her secrets.
On the advice she’d give her younger self:
The discipline comes in paring life down to what you really love and not adding things just because you can. Don’t waste your time doing anything you don’t love—there are too many things you will love that you cannot justify missing out. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself.
On learning from her mistakes:
Making mistakes is key to learning. Here’s a lesson I’ve learned: As you start taking on more and more, think about what your goal is with each task and the role time will play in getting there. There’s a difference between saying, “I’m going to take path A,” versus, “I’m doing this experiment right now to learn if I should go down path A or path B.” It’s worth it to take a moment before you act to make sure you know where you’re trying to go.
On her biggest career challenge:
The biggest challenge is knowing how much personal time and effort to allocate to the things that matter. This list isn’t necessarily large, but it changes all the time, so it is an art to make sure you adapt with it.
On what’s next for Paperless Post:
The UK, Canada, and Australia are the first countries outside the US where we now ship our paper products and will officially be accepting local currency. After that, will be our first non-English-speaking countries. I’m not sure what we’ll look like in 10 years, but I hope we have reimagined what invitations can be in a way that takes full advantage of technology and people’s desire for real connection.
On her advice for young entrepreneurs:
Instead of asking yourself what you want from the world, ask yourself what the world wants from you.
Lani Lazzari, CEO and Founder, Simple Sugars
Setting a new precedent for what “young entrepreneur” means, Lazzari, now age 22, started Simple Sugars when she was 11. Yes, you read that right—the girl wasn’t even a teenager yet. Since Lazzari herself had ultra-sensitive skin and eczema, she started Simple Sugars, an all-natural skin-care product line, looking for solutions. She and her company were featured on “Shark Tank” in 2013, where Lazzari won a major investment to get her company off the ground. Simple Sugars has since evolved into a multimillion dollar business that employs more than 20 people and sells products internationally. Lazzari opens up about how she did it.
On skipping college to start a business:
Five years ago it was a huge, scary, super-stressful decision for me to decide to forgo college to pursue my business, and now when I look back, it’s the best choice I’ve ever made.
On getting people to take her seriously as a young entrepreneur:
When I first started, not only was I young, but I was also a girl, and while it was nice that people thought I was “cute” for starting a business, that wasn’t what was going to help me turn Simple Sugars into a million-dollar company. At first, I let this affect my own confidence and make me second-guess my abilities, but I learned that I know more than I think I do, and I can’t let anyone else’s underestimation of me make me start underestimating myself.
On being a woman entrepreneur:
What inspired me to want to be an entrepreneur was watching my mom go through a bad experience as a woman in the corporate world. After watching her struggle, I was discouraged but realized that entrepreneurship was the one way that I could truly be responsible for my own success. So, really, being a woman was the reason that I decided to be an entrepreneur and is something that drives me to want to succeed every single day.
On her best advice for other entrepreneurs:
Starting a company will take over your entire life. There is no such thing as work-life balance when you’re an entrepreneur. You always have to put your business first, you’ll have to make decisions for the good of the company that impact your personal life, your friends and family will never really understand or appreciate what you’re going through or how much you’ve sacrificed. But it is a-million-percent worth it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Stacey Ferreira, Cofounder, MySocialCloud
At the ripe age of 18, Stacey Ferreira, now age 23, launched MySocialCloud—a cloud-based bookmark vault and password website—along with her brother, Scott Ferreira, and former CTO Shiv Prakash. In 2013, the trio sold the company, and Ferreira has since published a book titled 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World. She then founded a new company called Forge, with the mission of helping employees find flexible-schedule work opportunities. We asked her to tell us what it’s like to accomplish so much well before age 30.
On why it pays to choose your team well:
The people you bring on will make or break your success based on their ability to focus, execute, and work together. The people you target as customers can be your biggest advocates or can have you spend a lot of time doing work that doesn’t actually decrease your time to revenue. In both cases, choose these people wisely.
On her biggest career challenge:
My biggest challenge is balancing the desire to learn and knowing when to let new people execute on their job. There is so much that you need to do each day, from building product and signing up more clients to sending investor updates and literally taking out the trash in your office and cleaning the toilets. At first, you do everything yourself and try to scrape by. As you grow, you’re able to hire more experienced people, and you have to get out of their way and let them do what you hired them to do. Letting go and not micromanaging has been one of the hardest parts of starting a business.
On being a woman entrepreneur:
I think it’s a lot easier for me to get press and speaking opportunities than it is for even my male counterparts. These are public opportunities that can be leveraged for hiring, finding new customers, and fundraising. If you asked this question to a woman 10 years older than me, I think the answer would be radically different, but today it’s definitely a plus.
On her best career advice for entrepreneurs:
If you’re not spending at least 90 percent of your time on things that directly decrease your time to revenue, you need to refocus. If your team members aren’t spending at least 90 percent of their time on things that decrease your time to revenue, you need to let them go. Nothing kills a company faster than people who don’t execute.
Julianne Goldmark, CEO and Cofounder, Emi Jay
At age 14, Goldmark cofounded the L.A.-based hair-accessories brand Emi Jay along with Emily Matson (see below). Now 21, the duo runs the thriving business, which has generated millions, along with their mothers. The hair accessories line has expanded to include a T-shirt line called Tee by Emi Jay, and donates 20 percent of its profits to charity.
On expanding to the apparel market after focusing on accessories:
I think diving into more apparel is something we’re really interested in, and it goes nicely with our brand so hopefully we continue making more. We just launched boyfriend tees that are a little more sophisticated and simplistic than the original graphic muscle tees we started with.
On her best career advice for young women:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s nearly impossible to do things all yourself, and teamwork is always key. As a young woman, it’s easy to feel like you can make it all happen on your own, but it’s really OK to ask others for input. Also, make sure you’re surrounded with positive people who want nothing but the best for you. Jealousy occurs often at a young age, and it’s best to avoid any negativity at all costs when you’re starting a business.
Emily Matson, CEO and Cofounder, Emi Jay
As cofounder and co-CEO of the wildly successful hair-accessory line, Matson has some advice for her younger self.
On dealing with change:
I would tell my younger self to be OK with rolling with the punches. In regards to our growth as a business, we have certainly learned how to be OK with change and unpredictability, and I think that is essential in founding and running a brand but also applicable to life in a much broader sense.
On learning how to run a business:
We did not set out to start a business and were immediately met with demand for our product and incredible press, both of which we still consider a dream come true for young entrepreneurs such as ourselves. With that said, I think we were extremely lucky but did have to overcome our age as an obstacle. Not only were we in middle school at the time we began Emi Jay, but we had to quickly learn the ins and outs of running a business, alongside our mothers, who were as new to this world as we were. Thus, we didn’t have much of a choice but to learn as we went, and even today are continuing to learn in countless ways.
On learning from other women entrepreneurs:
I feel very fortunate to have started a business when we did, as there are so many powerful women doing incredible things in virtually every field, who are finally receiving the recognition that they deserve—all of whom serve as incredible role models and professional inspirations for us.