Millennials are more willing than ever to give up the stability of office jobs to handcraft their own futures through entrepreneurship.
Despite 2012’s sluggish economy, entrepreneurship was at a recorded high since 1999. Reports of startups that exit with multi-billion-dollar acquisitions (e.g. WhatsApp’s $19 billion acquisition by Facebook) no doubt fueled the mobile gold rush. Everyone and their mother have an idea for a mobile application that can revolutionize some industry in some way.
To a 20-something, being constantly told that you can change the world in a few years and get paid millions doing it is stimulating. Millennials now realize that achieving their version of success will require them to be more entrepreneurial than past generations. In a survey conducted by Bentley University on Millennials, only 13% reported “climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO” as their career goal; whereas 66% favored “starting their own business”. For many, C-suite dreams and nine-to-five stability are relics of the past generation; billion-dollar world-changing ideas are the new American Dream.
Saying No to Office Jobs: the New American Dream?
For two freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, however, success in entrepreneurship has nothing to do with ten-figure acquisitions by big corporations.
Even before coming to college, Rajat Bhageria is known to be exceptionally prolific. He filed a patent for a modular sofa, co-authored a research paper on the “fragility and molar volumes of non-stoichiometric chalcogenides”, created a social network for writers with 30,000 views per month, published a book on educational reform, before finally graduating high school. After coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Rajat beat 1500 engineers from 15 countries in America’s largest college hacking event and founded ThirdEye, a Google Glass application empowering the visually impaired by telling them what is before them.
“Some people like structure – going from A to B to C,” Rajat said during our coffee chat, “but innovation happens when you go from A to E. Some people want to be able to go to work at 7 and come home at 3, but that’s just not for me.”
When asked whether he would consider an office job, Rajat replied, “You could be working for a huge tech company making marginal improvements in widely used products, improving email platforms, or you can find your own solutions to big problems, by yourself. Structure is limiting.”
David Ongchoco, a freshman from the Philippines, may not share Rajat’s aversion to structure, but is equally fervent in his entrepreneurial spirit. Having forfeited his basketball dreams after an injury, David channeled his energy to entrepreneurship and founded YouthHack in 2014, a program hosting the first technopreneurship challenge in the Philippines. He is currently expanding his venture to Philadelphia, leading ThirdEye’s marketing efforts, co-authoring a book with an acclaimed venture capitalist, writing for the Huffington Post, reporting for several entrepreneurship magazines and curating his personal website – all the while remaining a full-time freshman at Penn.
David talked about how he personally reached out to and followed up with hundreds of people every day to attract people to his YouthHack venture. He also cited multiple inspirations – among whom are serial entrepreneur Jen Groover and Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs.
“Success is … being able to wake up every single day excited to start your day,” David said, paraphrasing Jen Groover. David also cited Steve Jobs’ famed Stanford commencement address as a major source of motivation. From the speech David realized that “our time in this world is limited so we have to make the most out of it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whatyou do – what matters is how many lives you were able to affect,”
“Everyone is an Entrepreneur…”
Interestingly, although interviewed in separate occasions, both Rajat and David quoted Steve Jobs as a big influence in how they define success – particularly his ability to champion ubiquitous innovation that affects millions.
“For me, success is really about being able to make an impact,” David remarked, “it’s about being able to add value in this world and make a difference in the lives of others.” Even though he recognizes the importance of marketing and creating a financially sustainable business, David is careful to not to equate those with his true motivation: to create impact.
Likewise, Rajat dismisses billion-dollar valuations and extensive media coverage as mere external motivators for his entrepreneurialism. To him, “it doesn’t matter that (his) product is featured on the New York Times or Forbes, or that (his) company gets acquired in millions of dollars. If no one uses it, it’s useless and it’s not successful. Extrinsic motivators, such as money or reputation or hype, are exactly what they are – extrinsic.” Rajat believes his best work comes when he is intrinsically motivated to solve a problem. “Everybody has a problem they want to solve, anything can be made into an entrepreneurial project, so everyone is an entrepreneur in that regard. Everybody has something to offer, so stay hungry.”
Despite being hard at work securing angel funding, increasing product awareness and securing a Google partnership for ThirdEye, Rajat is more thrilled by purely pursuing impactful ideas and sees money as a necessity, not a goal. When I brought up how hard it is to turn my own venture into a business, he immediately responded by, “Why not do it just to do it?”
Changing the world, paid or pro bono
The most notable entrepreneurs are almost always driven by a mission – their wealth and fame are mere byproducts of their success. By redefining success as being able to deliver real impact, Rajat and David display traits that characterize the best of entrepreneurs. The glamor of dorm-room-to-billionaire success is only secondary to their mission.
A few days ago when I was browsing Quora, the Q&A site, I came across a posted question: “I want success similar to that of Steve Jobs; what do I do?”
Beneath it, someone replied with a quote from Jobs himself: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”