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Debunking Stereotypes

Lessons from a millennial entrepreneur

By Jerry Jao, BS 05
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You have heard it a thousand times—the millennial generation is lazy, entitled, relies predominantly on technology for social interaction, and likes information in small, digestible bites. But this can’t be an accurate representation of the entire generation, as millennials are also behind some of the most interesting, innovative startups and technologies today.

What we are is resourceful. And this resourcefulness lends itself well to entrepreneurship, since we embrace the challenge of making difficult things happen with very few resources.

After four years and three companies, I have learned a thing or two about applying my millennial resourcefulness. Here are my most important lessons.

No to no. Always take a meeting, no matter if it’s with a prospective customer that isn’t big enough, a trade show producer even if you have no sponsorship budget, or a candidate for a role that you are not currently looking to hire. You can always learn something by talking to somebody new, even if it’s learning what not to do or who not to partner with. Every introduction may open a door down the road.

Smart, not cool. I get that everyone, especially in my generation, wants to capture the “cool factor” when building a startup. However, as we all learned at our high school reunion, coolness has a limited lifespan. And it can actually be very costly in business. At Retention Science, we joke about being in an unsexy industry, as we are not building the next Facebook or the hottest apps du jour. However, our team is dedicated to building a great technology and is passionate about solving a difficult problem together, and we feel cool in doing that. We don’t throw parties or spend fortunes on stylish office space. Instead, we think through every dollar and focus on building lasting relationships.

Speedy and scrappy. If your company is getting bigger and moving slower because you have more people to manage and more processes in place, it’s time to regroup. You should never implement a process because someone said it is a best practice. Don’t let rules and rigor tie you down. We have a clear objective for each meeting and discourage long-winded emails. Speed to execution is everything in business.

Go team. Collaboration and teamwork are the essence of every business, so we make a concerted effort to foster them within our company. Millennials can be especially good at this because we see beyond age and rank. Give everyone a voice and recognize and reward people who deliver high value—interns included. Collaboration is the true catalyst to seeing results; it drives innovation, tests weaknesses, and strengthens teams.

Being the example. I push my team very hard, and I let my actions speak louder than words. I do everything from washing dirty dishes to hiring interns. I cannot expect my team to work hard if I fail to demonstrate my commitment. I cannot ask my team to show care for others and contribute to building a culture that we are collectively proud of if I do not model my own values.

Finally, as entrepreneurs, we will experience all sorts of emotional roller coasters, but having the right attitude will get you through the toughest times. I remind myself everyday that I am very lucky to get to do what I do, and I make sure I don’t take anything for granted. I make sure my team knows that as well, although I try not to sound too much like a broken record in doing so. Who says millennials are entitled?

A longer version of this article appeared on Forbes.com.

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Jerry Jao, BS 05, is co-founder and CEO of Retention Science, a platform that enables online businesses to intelligently re-engage existing customers to maximize customer retention. He previously worked as an analyst with Morgan Stanley, an engagement manager with BearingPoint Management Consulting (KPMG Advisory), and most recently an adviser to the CFO of Clear Channel.

Jerry Jao