5 Ideas Teenagers can Steal from Startups

#1. Let the market tell you what you’re good at

Startups obsess over articulating the customer problem they’re solving. But sometimes their customers say they’re actually solving a different problem! They usually embrace it and build on this strength. How to steal this: Observe what friends and family rely on you for. Are you the “go to” person for tech problems? To plan trips? To find deals? To suggest restaurants? To cheer people up? Build on this! This will tell you what the others around you think you’re good at – you may be surprised at what your strengths are and discover a whole new career path in that field!

#2. Chase Insights

“Insights” are “aha” moments when startups discover something new about customer behaviour, product use cases or invisible limits of a process. Startups use experiments to move from one insight to another.

How to steal this: Try a lot of different things and look out for the “aha” moments – in your subjects, your interests or your conversations. If you find a good source of insights, milk it!

These a-ha moments will tell you what you’re passionate about and lead you to the fields you will enjoy learning about the most. And when you enjoy something, you do much better at it! (For me, the highest density of insights was in Economics)

#3. Maximize Long-Term earnings

All businesses maximize profit. But startups maximize profit over the long term. They consciously forego some short term revenue to achieve a critical milestone which “proves” something is possible (VCs make this possible). Once proven, it often unlocks a market much larger than what conventional companies can access (which is when the VC’s bet pays off).

How to steal this: It’s okay to want to maximize earnings. The long term approach is to make choices that maximize overall lifetime earnings. Sometimes this may mean taking roles with high risks or steep learning curves (which is an investment in overall lifetime earnings). If your family circumstances allow it, some of the steepest learning curves are found in early experiences of entrepreneurship. Taking on unpaid internships is based off the same principle – you may do some free work for a bit, but in the long-term you’ll learn so much that you may not be able to in a regular, entry-level role.

#4. Benefits > features

Startup marketers pitch “benefits, not features”. Benefits are the end outcome a customer values (e.g. IPod = “1000 songs in your pocket”).

Features are details which are meant to impress but often fail to impress the customer (e.g. IPod = “64GB space on a portable music player”). How to steal this: “Features” are your scores, your credentials and past achievements. In personal statements to colleges, in internship cover letters or while networking, articulate what value you can add (E.g. “fresh ideas”, “a teen’s perspective”, “focus group for product feedback” or “here’s a version of your website I designed with better UX!”). In fact, this is a very useful technique to use throughout life – whenever trying to convince somebody, think of what benefits they will find useful and pitch them the specific benefits rather than your features!

#5. Ask for what you want

Startups hustle. They ask, and most times they do not get (it’s fine, they are thick skinned). But when a large partnership clicks, it’s a 10X accelerator. As teens, be audacious. Connect with people on LinkedIn and ask for internships, a 20 min mentoring session, a sponsorship for your school club.

You’re not “too young”. No one is “too senior”. A “no” (or silence) shouldn’t stop you from asking someone else. This one I can back up from experience – you will be surprised at what you can get just because you asked (nicely). Most people are afraid to ask because they do not want to hear a ‘no’. A ‘no’ is not necessarily a sign of rejection or failure, it just means you tried and it didn’t work out this time. So next time you’re hesitating to ask for something, remember this – the worst case scenario is that you’ll hear a no. On the flipside, if you get a yes, you get what you want!

This article has been adapted from a LinkedIn post by Sriram Subramanian, CEO of Clever Harvey – India’s largest career accelerator for teenagers. Learn more at Clever Harvey Junior MBA

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