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How To Be Taken Seriously As A Young Entrepreneur

By Meghan Sharkus. Meghan founded ExpressionMed at 17 and bootstrapped it to a seven-figure ARR. A 2018 Thiel Fellow and Mentor. Follow her on YouTube.

As a successful young entrepreneur and member of the Theil Fellowship, a program that focuses on young entrepreneurs, I am often asked, “How do I get [insert person here] to take me seriously?” This typically comes up when someone is struggling to get started with a patent filing, manufacturing contract or sales partner.

There seems to be a common belief that young people are not taken seriously in the business world, and as a successful young person, I must know the secret to overcoming this heavy burden. I am here to tell you that the idea that all young founders are not taken seriously is far from the truth. From a social perspective, young entrepreneurs are often idolized, celebrated and heavily admired. The Forbes 30 under 30 program is a great example of this celebration.

From an investment perspective, many programs are created to seek out these young entrepreneurs as it is believed that finding founders young will secure investment firms early access to the decades of value that they will provide. Examples of this include the Thiel Fellowship and Interact Fellowship, whose age maximum is 22 to 23 years of age—just barely over the typical age of a college graduate.

So what separates the young founders who are celebrated from the young founders who struggle to be taken seriously? What I have found is that it is a combination of two things: a track record and industry knowledge.

You see, business deals are not built on social reputation and snap judgments. They are built on risk and profit potential. When you are dealing with someone who you want to “take you seriously,” they are assessing whether or not you are worth their time and money. If you have no track record, how do they know that you will be able to pay them? If you don’t have industry knowledge, how do they know you won’t mess up and put their profits and reputation at risk? All you need to do is assure them that you have a track record of sales and industry knowledge and you should be good to go! For example, you want to get a manufacturing quote for a product you would like to sell.

How Not To Be Taken Seriously

“Hi, I’m starting a business and would like to know how much it would cost to build a product like this.”

This immediately shows that you have no track record of doing business and that you have no idea how to build the product you would like to manufacture. You have likely just emailed a business development rep at the manufacturing plant whose job is to find the clients who will make the largest purchase with the smallest amount of effort. By showing you have no track record of sales, they will assume that you don’t have money. By showing that you don’t know how to manufacture your product they will assume that they will have to spend their time teaching you.

How To Be Taken Seriously

“Hi, I’ve built this product by hand and sold it to over 3,000 people on a monthly basis for about six months, I’d like to know your pricing for both rotary and flatbed printing as well as if there are any other options I should consider.”

By explaining your track record, the person you are messaging knows that you will be able to make a purchase from their company and will give you their time. By explaining what you already know about their manufacturing process they know that they don’t have to waste their time explaining it to you.

What If I Don’t Have A Track Record Or Industry Knowledge?

Do not, and I repeat do not, fake it until you make it. This line should be reserved for emotions only (i.e., faking confidence will ultimately give you real confidence). Faking a track record and industry knowledge is risky business and can result in a tarnished reputation. Getting caught in a lie will cause a loss of trust that is hard to gain back.

Instead, learn it till you earn it. Prototype your product to learn what your customers want. Use Google to learn about the industry and production best practices. Stalk any competitors or creators of similar products to see how they built, marketed and sold their products. If you do these things, smart business people will take you seriously and you will be able to grow your business to new heights.

What Do I Do If I Show My Track Record And Industry Knowledge And They Still Don’t Take Me Seriously?

Work with someone else. They say it takes 100 no’s to get a yes. The faster you get past the no’s the sooner you will get to the yes. So long as you are giving it your best shot by showing your track record and industry knowledge, you will find the right person to work with.

Bonus Tip: Try different methods of finding a yes. If a certain message doesn’t work after 30 times, test out a different one. If no one is responding to your emails, try calling people. If influencers won’t answer your DMs, find influencers with agencies who respond. Persistence is not fruitful without experimenting.

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