Todayís Careers - November 1 - November 7, 1996
YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS: ĎNO BUSINESS LIKE YOUR OWN BUSINESSí
Business newcomers reinterpret the American dream, casting themselves in the starring role.
Danny Stoltz skipped the cap and gown and quit high school at age 16 - armed with a business plan.
That was two years ago. Today, Stoltz says his 2-year-old company, Extras Only, staffs 85 percent of the movies and commercials shot around Portland.
Stoltz, who just turned 19, says his major problem now is squeezing in a social life.
"Itís tough to figure out how I really feel. Itís hard to deal with it now," says the busy Stoltz, who answers his phone breathlessly, "Casting, can you hold?"
"I just keep going and going and going," he says. "It doesnít phase me until I sit home relaxing and think, ĎWell, this is my dream.í"
Stoltz is typical of a growing number of young entrepreneurs in their teens and 20s who have bypassed corporate life and gone into business for themselves.
"I put everything into it. Iím on call 24 hours, and I bend over backward to make it so successful," Stoltz says.
His business success, however, hasnít changed who he is, Stoltz says, "I deal with people as a teenager, and I will act like a teenager in a professional way," he says. "I still have fun."
For his 18th birthday, Stoltz threw a party for 200, complete with live bands, security and - in a nod to the bottom line - a $7 cover charge. But this year, he was too busy tending his 3,500 extras, who range in age from toddlers to 90-year-olds.
"I thrive on being creative and being myself and not necessarily having to go to work and have guidelines I have to follow," Stoltz says. "Iím making the guidelines, and itís working, and that feeling is awesome."
Stoltz isnít the only young business owner cruising a self-made career track. In fact, many young entrepreneurs are turning up at small-business training classes.
North Seattle Community College, for example, designed its year-old, year-long entrepreneurship certificate course primarily for corporate drop-outs in their 40s and 50s. But the course has proved equally attractive to students in their mid- to late 20s, says associate dean of business Eustace Esdaille.
Entrepreneurship among the young is a growing tendency, Esdaille says. "We do have a lot of young people who are choosing that option," he says, "and they are taking this course to prepare them for that.
"I think the young people are getting a glimpse into the changing marketplace and a lot of downsizing," he says. "They realize people have to be more flexible and nimble in that environment, and as a result, the more savvy students are taking this course."
While educators see the expected flow of computer-literate youngsters headed for high-tech ventures, they also see a rainbow of other would-be entrepreneurs. One NSCC student, for example, started a hedgehog farm, Esdaille says.
Young entrepreneurs are also turning up at the Micro Business Alliance of Ballard, says Mike OíDell, newsletter writer for the 170-member, nonprofit association of small-business owners in Seattle.
And what are these entrepreneurial newcomers up to? "Itís a range," OíDell says. "Thereís a musiciansí network, somebody who does T-shirts and a line of hand-crafted jewelry."
Sense and savvy
Despite their inexperience, many young entrepreneurs take a disciplined approach to starting out, says business adviser Jeanette Rosenberg of Kirkland, Wash.
"They know they canít just jump in and go full force," says Rosenberg, author and business commentator on Northwest radio and television shows.
Rather, Rosenberg says, they do their homework, seek out professional support and pay attention to savings and investment.
"People donít wing it anymore," she says. Since 85 percent of new businesses fail within three years, this increased caution is a positive trend, she says.
Adam Engst, 29, of Issaquah, Wash. has been on an entrepreneurial roll for more than six years. He is publisher of TidBITS, one of the nationís oldest and largest electronic newsletters, as well as author of the best-selling guide, the Internet Starter Kit.
Having slipped into the field from a computer-consulting side business during his college years at Cornell University, Engst says heís never missed working for someone else.
"I donít enjoy being told what to do by someone," Engst says. "I kind of realized when I was at Cornell that if you do good work, you will be recognized for that on the Internet."
Instead of slaving through the corporate ranks, Engst proved his talents through his own projects. "I could point to this body of work and say, ĎLook, Iíve been doing this two years, and you can go read it," he says.
Not that Stoltz or Engst havenít made trade-offs. With such early success, both wonder what theyíll be doing when they really grow up.
Engst says he sometimes gets stressed when his corporate friends take on new projects while heís stuck with grinding out a weekly newsletter. Also, he admits that when he has to drive to the occasional business meeting, he finds a small thrill in putting on a suit and getting stuck in traffic.
Stoltz occasionally worries about missing his teenhood and feeling distanced from his laid-back peers.
"I know I need the personal life," he says. "I know everybody needs to have it sooner or later. If you donít have it, itís going to eat you alive."
Despite such tinges of concern, business consultant Eileen Hannegan of Tigard says that Generation-X entrepreneurs have easily bypassed the security of corporate careers for the freedom and expansiveness of running their own shows.
"They donít have enough history of being brutalized, disillusioned or disappointed by life as can sometimes stop people," Hannegan says.
Yet she cautions them to pause in their enthusiasm long enough to get the professional support they need from good accountants and attorneys. But in doing so, they should be careful not to relinquish control of business matters.
"A good question to ask yourself is, ĎAt this moment in time, could I run my business myself?í" Hannegan says. "If you canít, then youíre in a dangerous place."
Once young entrepreneurs have mastered the basics, they need to work on their polish, says business consultant Suzie Kanewske of Portland.
"They come off cockier," Kanewske says of some of the young entrepreneurs she teaches simple business etiquette. "They move quicker, talk quicker and are sometimes a little full of themselves."
Perhaps understandably so. Casting himself in his own future, Stoltz says, is an "awesome experience.
"Thatís the American dream," he says. "Thatís the best. I love it."
From their combined business experience of more than eight years, Adam Engst and Danny Stoltz have some advice and observations to pass along to young entrepreneurs:
- With the boom and bust of the job market, the only thing you can rely on is yourself
- When starting a business, you quickly realize how many details are new to you
- Market research, business plans and good support people are essential
- As your own boss, you must keep yourself overworking
- Business-ownership tax deductions can be worth more than employee benefits
- Going through adolescence and starting a business at the same time is emotionally difficult
- The freedom to call the shots and express yourself beats a big salary and abiding by someone elseís rules