63 Things Entrepreneurs Wish They Knew at 21

There’s no denying that the journey of entrepreneurship is one filled with ups and downs.  Very few people ever succeed immediately with their first venture or idea.  Experiencing these obstacles and failures also happens to be to be the best teacher of life and business itself. While we all wish we had the answers of today for yesterday, that unfortunately isn’t how life works. Thanks to these 63 entrepreneurs, they’ll be sharing their best advice they wish they knew at 21.

“I wish I knew at 21 that my 20’s were a special time that can’t be enjoyed in your 30’s. While I still would have likely been a workaholic given my nature, I would have taken more time to do things that you can only get away with at 21.” – Amanda Vega

“If you surround yourself with good, creative people who bring out the best in you, everything else almost always takes care of itself. Good ideas will flow more readily and your team will find ways to make them work. Every good start-up needs a solid idea, but we believe that collaboration, which is key in this day in age, will facilitate more creativity and improve ideas.” – Shaun Walker @ HERO|farm

“Find a wonderful mentor & make sure you carry the relationship so it continues. Choose them wisely and find a genuine reason for why you want them to be your mentor. I had a mentor later that made a huge difference in my life.” – Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio @ Six Figure Start

“Good sales skills can be learned and trained. It isn’t a mysterious skill you are born with. I used to have a fear that even with all of my education, I was not a good salesperson and, therefore ,would not be a successful entrepreneur. Boy was I wrong!” – Lianna Ling @ WSI Web Connect

“Be weary of potential clients who say things like: ‘I just want to start small and we want you to grow with us.’ Nonsense. People get used to paying that initial price and it is very difficult to raise their rates and retainers. This is a classic line to get you to do work for cheap. It usually stays that way.” – Micah Warren @ Large Media Inc

“The only difference between $1,000 and $10,000 is a zero. Don’t be afraid of a bigger account just because of the number.” – Mike Wolfe @ WAM Marketing Solutions

“Recurring revenue business models rock. If you can package your service as subscription, then do it. If you can get a large subscriber base that pays you month after month then your life will be much easier than if you sell a product where you start at $0 on the 1st of each month (for revenue).” – Mike Scanlin @ Born to Sell

“Be mindful of your reputation and image. A good reputation can carry a lot of weight and a bad reputation can destroy you overnight.” – Norm Bour @ Boomers Success Guide

“CASH FLOW IS THE KEY. Most people at the age of 21 don’t grasp the importance of cash flow and having cash on hand. Many rely on credit cards, and that’s generally NOT the way to go. Make sure that customers pay you upfront, at least a 50% deposit with the balance due before you finish your service/they buy your product. Keep things lean and mean and cut costs where ever you can.” – Joyce Weinberg @ City Food Tours

“Ask people you know that are successful what they do to stay motivated. Use those resources ALL the time. Watch the videos they recommend. Watch TED talks. Do things that infuse your day with inspiration and energy. Remove all things that do not.” – Tucker Robeson @ CDL Helpers

“Be flexible; let the market dictate your business: Don’t get caught up with a product that you are in love with, but isn’t selling. Be flexible in shaping your business with trends and customer demand.” – Morgan @ King Soleil

“Fire negative people immediately. They only serve to bring down the energy and morale of the entire organization.” – Susan Southerland @ Just Marry

“They say to fail fast and often – while this has merits, it still costs time, money, and emotions to fail, do it intelligently.” – Punit Shah @ My Trio Rings

“The power of compound interest. Einstein once said that ‘nothing in mathematics was more amazing to him than the power of compound interest.’ I would have liked to have fully grasp that concept earlier in my life and put it to work for me sooner. The light did not fully come until I was nearly 30.” – Pablo Salomon

“There is a big misconception about being a “failure” at something and “failing” at something. You are either succeeding or failing but are neither a failure or a success. Did I fail to get that deal, yes. But am I failing as a businessman because of that deal? No. Once you can accept that failure (like rejection) happens and WILL happen again, then you will only then become a mature entrepreneur. If you quit after one failed attempt, then well, you shouldn’t be in this business in the first place.” – Richie Frieman @ Pens Eye View

“Keep minimum debt. Most individuals in their early 20s want to purchase goods on a credit card and pay off over time. Maintaining a minimum debt-to-equity ratio helps your business especially when seeking investors and VC.” – Kenneth C. Wisnefski @ Webimax

“Make sure the view is right: Sometimes you need to step back and see the bigger picture, sometimes you need to get your head out of the clouds and look at the fine details in front of you. It’s always important to examine our ideas from different points of view in order to understand the possible pitfalls as well as opportunities.” – Simon Tam

“Expect setbacks and even some failures. Those are the best teachers and, if you learn the lessons well, they can yield great rewards. Don’t give up. Remember, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Luis Hernandez @ The Motor Bookstore

“Travel. Having a global perspective about business, people and cultures changes the way you look at problems – spending a significant amount of time *away* from your home city will do you wonders.” – Joseph Fung @ Tribe HR

“Get two monitors, it makes you more productive, even if you have to buy your own at your office.” – Jake Sigal @ Livio Radio

“At 21 ­there is nothing to lose! Go after your dreams, you have no responsibilities weighing you down and you will learn more if you fail, then you will at a corporate job. Go for it! It only gets harder to leave your job and chase your dream, the older you get.” – Aron Susman @ The Square Foot

“In the beginning I would focus on all the grunt work and admin stuff, and get back to client’s email in a day or two. No more. Clients and customer service come first. Take care of them.” Emily Grace

“Be diligent about gathering names and contact info early on. Social networks (Linkedin, etc.) which didn’t exist 22 years ago, make it easier to stay current in today’s world, but you should have your own data base.” – Kim Wilkerson @ Wilkerson Consulting Group

“If your business model can only scale by hiring more people, don’t do it. the biggest and most profitable businesses do not bill hourly for a human’s time. Sell software, information, pills, or goods that can be priced at many times the cost it takes to produce a single unit.” – David Friedman @ Boston Logic

“A happy customer will tell 2 people, an unhappy customer, 10 people. Your objective is to “show your love” to unhappy customers by blowing them away with your customer service. I’ve had unhappy customers become my best mouth pieces. Why? They know no one is perfect and were thrilled with how I handled the situation.” – Catherine Fiehn @ Catherine Fiehn Photography

“You know yourself. You know your passions and you know who you are and what you want. It might seem crazy, and it is, but that’s okay. Don’t let anyone get in the way of who you know you are, not coworkers, not friends, not even family. Have the confidence to pursue your dreams regardless of the difficulties that will lie in your way. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and will help you get there.” – Dara Avenius @ Fascinate Media

“Some people just can’t be satisfied. You can work your butt off for them and they don’t appreciate it or are still unsatisfied. It is just better to just lose the business than waste time with a customer that will just continue to be a nightmare, might sue you, or give you negative reviews. If you realize they are a difficult customer, you have the right to refuse business too. ” – Shannen Knight @ Sport Eyes

“Your employer doesn’t care about you as much as you think” – Hamid Saify @ Choice Punch

“Don’t leave money on the table. Giving services away or not charging properly for work performed does not make you benevolent. It makes you a sucker and there is always someone waiting to take advantage of your misguided good nature.” – Greg Dubose @ Bella Group Inc

“Customer service is the key to differentiating yourself from many competitors. I have seen websites with no phone numbers and some with no email ID. Of those that do, many have only an answering machine and calls don’t get returned for hours or days, if at all. Emails have an auto-reply which says “someone will contact you in 3 business days.” Are they kidding? In three business days I will have made my purchase elsewhere.” – Izzy Goodman @ CCS Digital

“Go as long as you can without raising institutional money – raising money changes the dynamics of the business. You now have a board of directors to own up to. And you are on their clock. Not to mention, the dilution that will bring your ownership stake way down. The further you are able to get in terms of product validation or even sales, you will have more leverage to negotiate better terms with the investors and your abilities to be the CEO which will be clear and unquestioned.” – Jonathon Tang @ Vastrm

“Relationships are everything. You never know where your next client is going to come from, and everyone is a potential referral source, so treat everyone you meet with respect, because they could send you business!” – Shane Fischer @ Fischer Law

“A degree doesn’t automatically get you a job. College led me to believe that getting a degree would spring you ahead into this whole other realm of existence where you magically get paid enough to pay back your student loans. Such was not the case needless to say.” – Joan Barret @ The Content Factory

“Integrity requires change and personal growth. It is far better to admit you were wrong or that you have changed your mind than to be constantly wrong under the guise of integrity. The best you can do is your best and when you’re committed to personal growth and development your best will continue to get even better. ” – Laurie Gray @ Socratic Parenting

“Don’t give the business your name. This is a lesson I did learn at age 21 because the owner I worked for had made this mistake. He could never be a separate entity from his company since the name tied him together. Even though he drew a regularly salary from the business just like any other employee, his finances (loans, mortgages, etc.) always involved a look at the business.” – Dominic Bonacci @ Academic Ventures

“Never ever judge a person based on a title, and appearance or a car. We live in a world of smoke and mirrors, titles change, business cards are cheap, cars can be purchased used. Size a person up based on what they present themselves to be, not the external factors. Sometimes the people we are the quickest to judge are the ones that are the most beautiful flowers just waiting to be opened.” – Jill Ehrlich @ Lulu’s

“Find people who have succeeded at a high level at what you are attempting and interview them. Find out what mistakes they made and ask LOTS of questions. You don’t have to do it the way they did and you don’t even need to agree to their philosophy. Just learn all you can. Success leaves clues.” – Nikki Buckelew

“Everyone hears that the first million dollars you make are the hardest. After my experience, I think differently. The First Million is the Funnest. Yes, I know that’s grammatically incorrect and misspelled, but that is exactly it. I think entrepreneurs have to break all the traditional rules and do things outside of the box and against the grain.” – Luke Sniewski @ Leaf Lifestyle

“I wish I knew that listening to what other people are interested in, and then adding something from yourself that caters to their interests is key. If you listen to what people say, they will think you are the most interesting person in the world, without you ever saying much of anything.” – Robert Keck @ Right at Home

“It takes just as much work to develop and run your own business as it does to work for someone else. Lesson: I enjoy putting in the extra hours to make my own business more successful.” – Jeff Milano @ The Peoples Chemist

“The biggest myths in start-ups is that you have to have a background in what your getting into. That is not true. You have to have a passion and a capacity to work with people who can augment your skills to do what you want to do. Business degrees are overated and street smarts will always rule the day. If you look at some of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, so many had a modest or no education. They had drive and passion.” – Craig Wolfe @ CelebriDucks

“Test your great idea on a small scale before you try to roll it out “big time”. Use the start-up phase to de-bug, document and validate your bright ideas in the real world. It’s a lot easier to make corrections when you are just starting vs. later when you have a much bigger operation.” – Gordon Logan @ Sport Clips Haircuts

“Plan, plan and plan some more. Most companies fail here because they are merely reacting to situations rather than taking the time to be proactive. 10-30% of your working hours as an entrepreneur should be spent planning. Also, set plenty of goals, write affirmations and be accountable to someone or something.” – Dave DeBlander

“Create a bottom line. If your rate is really $850 – ask for $1,000 to give yourself some negotiating room. Clients often treat Entrepreneurs as a vendor in a flee market and are always poised to talk your rate down.” Lillie Mae @ Lillie Mae PR

“Your employees will rob you blind. When I owned my nightclub, the bartenders would give away free drinks to their friends, or put the money charged for the drinks in their tip jars, or drink all the booze themselves. Or all three! Unless you want to stand over them watching 24/7, or work the business yourself from open to close, it’s just not worth it. People are used to plastic these days – don’t let your workers accept cash!” – Aimee Elizabeth

“The world often has a plan for you (and your business) that is bigger than you. Think big then stretch that vision until it is uncomfortable…then stretch a bit more. Big visions with a plan can yield big results.” – Charmaine Hammond @ Hammond Group

“Remember when you’re dating that the person you end up marrying will need to understand that being married to an entrepreneur is hard. So make sure you keep this in mind while dating and becoming close to someone. It’s best that you find someone who will enjoy and encourage the ride and possibly be more involved with your ventures at times if it’s a good fit.” – Pete Maughan @ Weight Loss Wars

“Don’t start a business endeavor hoping that, ‘If I build it, they will come.’ It is much easier to start where the customers are already lined up. Wherever there is a need unfulfilled, there is opportunity. Be aware. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. People complain constantly about not being able to get something that they want. In every gripe there is a potential opportunity. Devise a way to fill the void, and deliver the solution.” – Russell Slocum @ Slocum Group

“Pick a starter biz. Let’s face it – at 21, you probably don’t know what your ‘calling’ is. Don’t get stuck in the mindset that your business will be the same 5-10-20 years down the road. Your first business is where you LEARN and GROW. Pick something fun and profitable, learn the lessons, and when you’re ready to evolve and upgrade, you’ll be ready.” – Racheal Cook @ The Yogipreneur

“Experience is everything, but, don’t confuse age with experience, many people have little experience at an older age and some have much more experience at a younger age.” – Mike Seiman @ CPX Interactive

“Start early, prioritize and complete deadlines ahead of time. Waiting on last minute to-dos can not only cause stress but set you back. Creating structure and planning ahead, will make workflow easy sparring you time to invest in other activities. If something doesn’t work the first time, don’t fuss, try it again or change your routine, after all practice makes perfect.” – Anastasiya Kuzmina @ AIM PR

“Fear is healthy. Use it as a motivator to take risks and do things that you wouldn’t normally do.” – Lori Bizzoco @ Cupids Pulse

“Don’t buy a franchise! The costs are never worth the royalties. You are better off learning what you need to know beforehand or during your adventure. The support can be had in other cheaper ways (SCORE, SBA, local business groups). My one business had a royalty rate of 7.5% and a required 9% advertising fund. There was no way I could make any money. Even the successful chains like Subway and McDonalds, you have to pay the royalty before paying ANY other bill. The franchisor gets paid before the rent – think about the dangers of that.” – Chris Nelson @ Glass Handbag

“If you’re an entrepreneur, and you want to start a business, don’t go to graduate school. Graduate school is expensive and is a great experience; however, it prepares you for life within the corporate world. You may have a great job, but you’ll also be paying back tons of student loans. These student loans can be cost-prohibitive when trying to start your own business.” – Andrew Legrand @ Andrew Legrand Law

“If you are interested in starting your own business start reading books about other entrepreneurs. More than likely the founder of one of your favorite brands or companies has written a book. They give great insight on what it took to bring a business from selling the items from the trunk of their car to going public.” – Alex and Chris Karsos @ GI Nutrition

“Don’t put the cart before the horse–always iron out and get the actual business up and running (or at least a proof of concept) before you go out and make expenditures on things like offices, business cards, a landline and the like. Generally you should be as frugal as you can in the beginning stages of your business. “ Ian Aronovich @ Government Auctions

“Use the 80/20 rule to increase profits. It’s very likely that Pareto’s Principle applies to your business, in that 20% of your offerings generate 80% of your revenues. Focus more on improving that 20%, and you’ll automatically increase your income. Bam. Really.” – Ali Brown

“Good follow-up skills are one of the most important skills you can have. I found myself working really hard to get appointments with major retailers, but nothing would come from those meetings because my follow-up skills weren’t developed yet. You learn this lesson very quickly. You must have good follow-up skills to cash in on all your blood, sweat and tears.” – Michael Makarian @ Contempo Card Company

“Luck favors people who are prepared. People say I was lucky with Sleeptracker but I worked for years before it was a commercial success. Nobody thinks about that time. They only see the end result.” – Lee Loree @ Sleep Tracker

“Put adding value first…change the world…we need you. Start by putting contribution first. Sometimes all it takes a smile…to see the impact you make on someone to shift paradigms. Look at what’s wrong with the world and transform that piece. Never loose site of what’s right with the world. Make a difference in someone’s life each day and dedicate your life to making a lasting positive impact.” – Brenton Gieser

“Once you become successful, don’t blow the money you do make. Reinvest it in the business in order to make it bigger, better and strong. There is a tendency when you start to make money to spend it because you’re so relieved to have an income rolling in, but hiring employees, making services better works best. You must be prepared to reinvest not only money but your time before you can reap huge rewards.” – Michael Walsh @ Walsh & Associates Fundraising

“Don’t be afraid to break the ‘rules’. Who made them anyway? Why can’t you eat dessert first? Why can’t you have a babysitter and work from home? Why can’t you have multiple sources of income, and not a 9 – 5 job? Thankfully, each of us is different and has a unique life purpose. Break the rules, if it’s in integrity with who you are.” – Robin Samora @ Let’s Make You Shine

“A LOT of professionals are making it up as they go. From the outside, huge organizations and successful people look like demi-gods with complete control over everything they do. 99% of the time this is not the case. People get lucky, people are in the right place at the right time, people have help. You are not as underprepared as you would assume. The others in the space are not as far ahead as you think (or ahead at all).” – Brennan White @ Pandemic Labs

“Assemble a Master Mind Group of people you respect and trust. Meet with them periodically for counsel, trouble-shooting and mentoring. Ask them to hold you accountable to your plan, and give them permission to get in your face when it’s necessary.” – Clifford Bailey @ Techsoft Systems