The Entrepreneurial Legacy to Gen Y
This is my site Written by Alora on October 12, 2010 – 10:40 am

Like many of my peers in Generation X, my parents and my grandparents have never really understood what I do for a living. My parents use the web, so it’s not entirely outside their comprehension, but when it comes to my grandparents: I may as well be communicating with aliens via mental telepathy. Being a knowledge worker in a digital economy is a bit of a leap for people who don’t watch TV or listen to the radio and who rely almost elusively on a paper copy of a newspaper for their information consumption.

I think that’s part of why I am often fascinated by generational research: I see how big the difference is in my life versus my parents and grandparents, and I am riveted at the idea of what subsequent generations are going to experience that I am not even capable of imagining. I was thinking about this as I was reading a great list on YoungEntreprener today: 27 Inspiring Young Online Entrepreneurs.

When I look at the companies these entrepreneurs started — Mashable, Volusion, Digg, Box.net, 99Designs, iContact — I can’t help but think that this may be one of those interesting examples that I’ve been looking for when it comes to ways in which Generation Y will be different than Generation X. I think we tend to dismiss many of these success stories as anomalous. And while they certainly are in terms of their success, I am not so sure they are when it comes to what motivated them to embark on their “pet projects” in the first place.

And in the end, I think this really may be Generation X’s most exciting legacy to Generation Y: an internet-driven economy that has made it much more possible for a teenager to have the tools on-hand to build a business that is worth seven-figures even before the first day of freshman year of college. Sure, not all teenagers are going to take advantage of that opportunity; and not all who try to take advantage of it will be successful. But the fact that option is so much more readily available than at any previous point in history is just… well, really, really cool.

My husband’s new startup is about pairing businesses with high school students to crowdsource project work. And while most people love the idea and are eager to get involved, the one consistent source of pushback we do hear is, “What kind of business value do high school students really have?” It’s been a fascinating lesson to me, to see how deeply entrenched that perception is among so many people. Most people don’t have a concern about trusting college students, but the idea of high school students is just jarring enough that some people can’t quite get their head around it.

Personally, I think that lists like this are encouraging. For too long, too many of us with creative talents and inspiration believed what we were told when someone said to ‘wait’ — until after college, until later in a career, until some nebulous date off on the horizon — to pursue our dreams. I love that these young entrepreneurs just considered it normal to start young. It didn’t occur to them that they shouldn’t. It’s further evidence of what (creativity and education specialist) Sir Ken Robinson says: we ‘educate’ kids out of their creativity over time, and teach them not to stand out, not to differentiate themselves from their peers, and to stick to the safest, most boring and most conventional path.

I think it’s sensational that these 27 young entrepreneurs bucked that trend. And I think it’s fantastic that they are high profile enough to help set an example for those who come after. And I think it’s cool that in just my lifetime alone, we’ve gone from 8-track tapes to the iPad, and that there are eager young entrepreneurs who automatically dive in to find their niche. It makes me fabulously curious about what more is to come.

While plenty of people — usually older — scoff at the idea of a 24-year-old CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, I say good for them. Life is short. The only value in “waiting” is if you don’t know what you want to do. If you know, go for it. After all, if you’re going to trip and fall, I always figure it’s best to do that when you’re young enough that you don’t have to worry as much about the dangers of breaking a hip.

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