Preparing Millennials for Startup Success

Posted: October 5, 2014 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

BobGilbreathAhaAt a recent career fair our startup’s booth was besieged with students. It seems that startups are the sexy career choice for the generation hitting the job market today. We startup founders certainly need their energy, but too often the reality of the work shocks the Millennial graduate used to much more structure and support than a startup can give.

One could argue that the culture of startups is a product of 20-somethings. Many of the faces of the movement, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have defined the work-hard, play-hard culture that startups take on. Google and Apple headquarters feel like the college campuses that Millennials so recently left. Social media and texting are commonplace ways that work is done. Face-to-face conversations in the workplace now are carefully scheduled, if they happen at all. There are natural pluses and minuses to these changes, but the rest of us have to get used to it.

However the Millennial generation must also adapt to succeed, especially if they wish to join the fray at a startup company. I have had the privilege of leading hundreds of Millennials across two entrepreneurial ventures in ten years. Based on this experience, I would offer these three ways in which startups fit their needs, but also need them to adapt quickly.

Millennials crave responsibility, and there is no better place to make an instant impact than a startup. We only hire when we needed people yesterday, and we don’t have time for endless meetings and discussion. You will be shocked at how much power and influence you get on day one. On the other hand, the stakes are much higher than what you can imagine. If you fail, the company can fail. With much responsibility comes long hours and the knowledge that if you don’t make it happen, no one will.

Most of us have heard by now that Millennials want lots of feedback. They are used to teachers and coaches constantly testing and grading their performance. This comes in startups, too, but in ways you probably won’t expect. Your manager does not have time to sugar-coat things—the pace is too quick and emergencies too frequent. So be ready for unscripted, raw direction and some raised voices from time to time. This business is personal and comes with the full range of emotions. Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Jeff Bezos are known for their legendary tirades, which challenged their people to make the product great.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Millennials to overcome is a general temptation to quit when the going gets tough. If parents are always willing to re-open the basement, bailing out can be pretty easy. No matter how sexy the startup seems, it will be much harder than anything you have experienced before. The only thing that keeps startups going through the inevitable dark days is a determination not to fail. We all need the grit to win.

Working with Millennials is one of the best things about starting a company. It is a thrill to see young people rise to great heights within a matter of weeks, and I love to give them a chance to help us win. If nothing else becomes of our company, I know that we have given an incredible head start to the next generation of business leaders.

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