How to Build a Startup Mentality as a High School Entrepreneur
By Zhizhuo Zhou
October 31, 2017
When we are kids, we dream the wildest dreams—talking trees, flying cars, and unicorns—until the world tells us “we are wrong.” Gradually, we learn that the world is not magical: trees don’t talk, cars don’t fly (consumer cars, at least), and there are no unicorns!
Our dreams change too. Maybe we wanted to serve ice cream behind the counter, but now we settle for something more realistic, such as a programmer, an architect, a doctor…. Reality chips away our dreams, bit by bit.
Entrepreneurship provides more freedom in choosing how you want to spend your time: you can make a “talking tree” while sustaining financially by selling talking trees to other people. I will talk about five startup mentalities that help to get ideas off the ground:
- Separating fancies and ideas
- Picking an optimal idea
- Starting with a plan
- Failing fast
- Pursuing optimal timing
Seperating Fancies from ideas
Entrepreneurship is not dream-making. Entrepreneurship is not magic; it requires some fundamental knowledge and a lot of hard work. Through this hard work, however, we can achieve our goals.
Entrepreneurship is not dream-making. Entrepreneurship is not magic; it requires some fundamental knowledge and a lot of hard work
There is a clear line between fantasies and ideas: ideas come with a logical plan. Imagine a talking tree that can walk around with its roots—that is a fantasy. Now, imagine a plant in a pot with Alexa (or Google Home) attached to it—that is an idea.
Ideas have a plan and a purpose. Take the talking tree, for example, the purpose is to make a tree that can tell you the weather, and the plan is to attach smart speaker that connects to weather and natural language processing APIs to a planting pot.
Ideas help us achieve our dreams.
Picking an Optimal Idea
We have ideas, but how do we settle on one?
Two main factors help us select an optimal idea: passion and viability.
Passion is how much you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish an idea; in other words, how excited are you for an idea? Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey; many people hit tremendous challenges and have to adapt to overcome those challenges. It is vital to pick an idea that you will not drop on a whim.
Viability is how likely an idea is going to succeed. Consider how technologically feasible an idea is and how much people are willing to pay for it, if at all. Many factors make an idea viable, but every viable idea has to be possible to make, and people have to want to pay for them.
Plot a simple 2D graph with passion on one axis and viability on the other. This way, you can pick out the most optimal idea (the idea that is in the top right corner).
Starting with a Plan
Now that we have an idea, it is time for execution. Starting a business is not a one day task, and a plan keeps us organized during our entrepreneurial journey. Here are some key points you should keep in mind while working on your idea:
- Purpose— What are you trying to achieve?
- Direction— How are you going to achieve it?
- Customer— Who will use your new product or service?
- Product or service— What are you offering?
- First product— What is the first rough prototype (product or service) that you are going to build?
- First customers— Who are you going to talk to about your idea? (Be sure to not only sell to your customers, but also talk to them, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like…)
- Time— How much time will you need to make the first product and talk to first customers?
- Future— What are some possibilities for future expansion?
Here is a hypothetical plan for a lemonade stand.
- Purpose— Offer an undeniable refreshment to families
- Direction— Selling special lemonades
- Customer— Families that live in town
- Product or service— Lemonade stand with special flavors
- Coffee banana lemonade
- Blueberry pineapple lemonade
- First product— Blueberry pineapple lemonade
- $5 per cup
- 25% pineapple juice
- 25% blueberry juice
- 50% regular lemonade
- First customers— Neighbors
- My family
- Jones family
- Smith family
- Time— Two days
- Future— Selling online and delivering lemonade
Remember, plans have to be actionable–meaning that you can wake up tomorrow morning and jump right to work. Simply planning on making a “special lemonade” is not actionable, because what is “special?” However, making a “coffee banana lemonade” is actionable: just blend together coffee, bananas, and lemonade!
We have goals we want to achieve, and a plan lays out the steps necessary to achieve our goals.
“Fail” may seem like a scary word, but as entrepreneurs, we have to embrace “failing” as learning and moving forward. “Fail fast” does not mean we give up fast when the first ten people we ask do not care about our idea. Fail fast simply means to keep an open mind and adapt to the situation.
“Fail fast” does not mean we give up fast when the first ten people we ask do not care about our idea. Fail fast simply means to keep an open mind and adapt to the situation.
Let’s talk through the sample example of a lemonade stand. A person wants to start a lemonade stand during the summer. The person gets a table, a blender, lemons, sugar, and a sign. The person sets up his or her stand on the sidewalk and waits for people to buy lemonade.
No one buys the lemonade.
There are many things the person can choose to do:
- Close-up shop and start an online origami company (or any other company).
- Explore ways to make the lemonade stand different by adding exotic flavors, changing the location, putting up signs at intersections, and advertising on social media.
- Wait for tomorrow, and maybe a person will buy a cup of lemonade.
The first two options are “fail fast” option. When you encounter hardships, quickly analyze the situation and make a decision. The worst thing is to waste time on an idea for the sake of working on it slowly.
Pursuing Optimal Timing
Last but not least, timing is a key element in startups. Successful companies, movies, shows, artists all catch the perfectly timed wave. Online movie streaming companies flourished when families had computers and a fast internet connection to stream HD movies. New social media companies excelled when the young generation all started having smartphones. Reflect on the new trends such as organic food and healthy eating. Think about how your idea can ride on new trends to popularity.
As high school entrepreneurs, think about the time you have to work on your ideas given that you have to balance school and other extracurricular activities. It is better to start sooner than later. Consider the time you have now and the ever-busier law of life; don’t wait for life to give you a break before starting a company. In the future, there will always be things that require time and attention. Balance startup work with your responsibilities, because if you wait for “a break” in life, you will never start.
Keep these mentalities in mind, find an optimal idea and an optimal time, and create your dreams. Good luck!