My goal with Next Gen Summit is to create an environment for the best, brightest and most motivated millennials from across the world to connect, collaborate, and inspire each other. We want to position NGS as the resource for young entrepreneurs of all types to get all of the resources they need to be successful. We see the 4 resources as investment [we have a $20 MM investment panel, and startups raised close to $1 MM at NGS 2015], social capital, education and inspiration. We want to impact millions of millennials, and challenge them to think differently and work together to get from where they are to where they want to be.
When were you “bitten” by the entrepreneurial bug?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur long before I wanted to run a company. From an early age, I wanted something different than what was currently offered; I yearned to create opportunities and solve problems. Frankly, I was just unhappy with the status quo - in everything: the way classes were run, the college admissions process developed, the way brands wanted to reach my generation, the way entrepreneurs helped each other, and so on. Naturally, as I was exposed to the the 'status quo' progression of each of these areas, I used business to fix it; to create opportunities and solve problems. The changeover itself though happened my senior year of high school when I deferred my admission to Wharton - the decision itself based around wanting something different than the status quo. Soon after, I started my first company, and my second, and my book, and my speaking career, and the rest is history. I think a lot of it also has to do with how I was raised. My parents instilled a pretty tangible rebelliousness in me - not rebelliousness for the sense of causing trouble, but instead a courage to speak up for what I believed in. This trait clearly revealed itself in my life, as well as the life of my older brother Josh, who ran for office at age 18 (JoshLafazan.com).
What’s been the hardest part about starting your own business as a millennial entrepreneur?
Sometimes, I have to worry about the 'taken seriously' factor. My great friend Dean always jokingly says, "Why in the world would USA Today trust YOU?!" And it's true. Organizations, families and individuals place a whole lot of trust in me at a young age, but it's not always like that. For every client of mine, there is a CEO or partner that laughed at my proposal because I didn't have a college degree under the required 'education' section. But I don't give it thought because time is changing. When an exec listens to my WHY - why I didn't wait for college, or why I do this at a young age - they sometimes come around. Is college important? Absolutely. Is experience important? Even more so. But are the two the end-all-be-all? No way Jose. Young entrepreneurs just have to shift the conversation and focus on their strengths. If I'm young, I have a new perspective. If I'm not in college, I have more flexibility to travel to help organizations. And it goes on and on.
But I have advantages from being young:
· The most overlooked advantage of being a young entrepreneur is easy access to mentorship. My cold emails get through when yours don't. So many organizations, individuals and communities want to see youth have success in business and entrepreneurship, and are willing to give their time, money, and energy to help. It's mindboggling how I haven't paid for a lunch in a year and a half, even when I am the one who makes the request to take a superior out.
· Being young offers this vital experimentation period - a time to figure out what is your best use and highest calling. I thought mine was in the marketing arena, and now I'm thinking I'm also meant to connect youth. When you're 18, you're asked to make a decision about your college major, when 3 months prior you have to ask permission to use the bathroom in math class. As a young entrepreneur, I can try to give value, see what sticks, and make changes along the way. I can find myself, and where I belong.
· I'm allowed to fail as a young entrepreneur. I don't have a family that relies on me. I don't have a corporate job I have to protect from 9-5. So because of my ability to fail, I can take giant risks. I'm attempting to host the premier conference for young changemakers, and the only funding behind it is me - but I'm allowed to take that financial risk because of my age. If I fail, my back-up is heading back to math class with the rest of the 99% of college students, right back on track. It's a win-win, because I'll most definitely learn something those won't too.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I have nothing to worry about. I have my 7 best friends, a great girlfriend, and the best family in the world who are with me through everything, and that support system enables me to balance the trillion things going on in my life.
What resources have you found helpful in blazing your own trail?
I was recently featured in Forbes, and I spent my time talking about resources young people need to be successful: http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2015/07/26/the-4-resources-millennial-entrepreneurs-need-to-succeed/
The first is social capital, and that’s probably my most valuable resource. I dedicate tons of time to building meaningful relationships with cool people working on cool projects, and insist on connecting with new folks every single day.
The second is education, and while I am on a gap-year, I am constantly reading articles, attending workshops or getting counsel from friends.
The third is investment. I fund my entrepreneurial projects ( Next Gen Summit) through the profits of my marketing company, Millennial Marketing Strategy.
The final is inspiration. Each night before I go to sleep, I watch one TED talk, to learn something new and get pumped up about the world. Each day, I focus on only doing things that really light me up.
Who’s your entrepreneurial hero?
I have lots. The greatest resource for me is my access to peer-mentorship; I use this hand-in-the-sand method, where I take advice from everyone, and most of the advice I let slip through my fingers, but with the stuff that really resonates, I keep in the palm of my hand. Nevertheless, if I had to pick one, I think John Meyer is pretty cool. No not the singer! John turned down a job at Apple and left NYU to launch his startup Fresco News, which is changing media as we know it. John’s drive, passion and HUSTLE inspire me every day. He also has a sweet beard. Dan Fine is pretty cool, too. He stayed in school (all 4 years at my college, UPenn), while managing his company, Glass-U. Dan’s a great guy to hang around with.
What advice do you have for today’s aspiring entrepreneurs?
Three main nuggets:
· You have to reverse engineer processes. If you want to be a speaker, don’t just sit at home and hope someone calls you. Go find speakers, ask them what they did, add your own twist and launch your career. Find the people who are doing what you want to be doing and spend time with him. Sitting back and hoping gets you nowhere closer.
· Commit. Then figure it out (Mick Ebling). When opportunity comes knocking, say YES and figure it out afterwards. Commit to a big goal or project, and actually figure out the feasibility of it later. Beg forgiveness; don’t ask permission.
· No does not mean no; it just means not now. No means figure out something else with a different strategy. It doesn’t mean to give up on your dreams.
How can our readers connect with you?
My website JustinLafazan.com has everything about me, and I absolutely love when I get emails from readers of my articles or viewers of my talks! Justin@JustinLafazan.com is my email, so let’s connect!
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