"Don't dim your light."
"Ask as many questions as you can -- it's the cheapest path to riches in this world."
"Only work with the best people, and treat them well."
That's just a taste of the advice I gleaned from fascinating conversations with these six wildly successful entrepreneurs, all of whom began making a mark on the business world while still in their 20s. From eco-conscious baby products and conference name tags, to consumer empowerment websites and social media tools, these young go-getters are taking risks and seeing the rewards. They're living the Life Out Loud.
Many thanks to the Summit Series for providing me with an introduction to these six, as well as hundreds of other movers and shakers who are also grounded, generous, and warm-hearted people.
"I didn't set out to be an entrepreneur; I just accidentally ended up here," said 31-year-old Alexandra Mysoor, the child of immigrant parents from India. In 2007, Alexandra and her husband, Prashanth, had their first child. Through a lactation nurse, Alexandra learned that most plastic baby bottles contain BPA, which is toxic. In addition, news had just surfaced about lead being found in toys from China. Alexandra and Prashanth recognized a huge problem that had a simple solution: Create a place where parents can buy reliably safe, non-toxic baby products at an affordable price. Hence Generation Orange was born. "Don't dim your light," Alexandra advised. "If you aren’t your true self, if you have low self esteem, you’re going to attract unhappiness to you. It’s a waste of energy. You can really be anything you want to be.” Photo credit: Danielle Barnett
When Dario Meli discovered the Internet in 1996, he said to himself, “This is crazy.” He immediately dropped out of college and applied to the Vancouver Film School. “At the time, it was one of the only multimedia programs in existence,” he explained. “People came from all over the world to attend. I was able to learn a little bit about everything: web design, development, shooting and editing video, audio, 3D, internet law, Flash. I wanted to be able to build something.” Dario worked a variety of jobs before finding his way into a partnership with David Tedman and Ryan Holmes to build a new digital agency, Invoke, in 2006. Together, they serviced clients and started creating products such as Memelabs, software for large companies to host video contests. They jumped on the Twitter bandwagon early, developing an application to help people schedule their tweets and host accounts with multiple users. The tool, HootSuite, is currently one of the top social media management services, counting millions of users. “As a small business owner, it’s not all roses,” Dario said. “You have to stay true to your core values. Only work with the best people, and treat them well. Listen. Be open. Be genuine. Allow yourself to fail and to be wrong.” He added with a chuckle, “That helps in work and in relationships.” Photo credit: Kris Krug
Dan Lack’s mantra is, “Life ain’t no f'in dress rehearsal!"--something his grandfather, a world renowned pediatric surgeon, would say to him when he was growing up. Dan has been a successful entrepreneur since the age of 7, when he won his elementary school’s giftwrap paper selling contest. “I made appointments with all my neighbors, parents' friends, etc.,” he said. “I sold the hell out of everyone else, and won for the next four years.” At 15, Dan was accepted into a program for young entrepreneurs in Atlanta and was offered a job with the number one music promoter in the Southeast. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Dan traveled to Ecuador and worked at the Ecuadorian/American Chamber of Commerce. In his rare moments of free time, he took advantage of his new geographic location and explored exotic destinations throughout South America. “That experience taught me that you don't have to have a ton of money to live the dream,” Dan said with a huge grin. A few years ago, Dan launched two of his own companies. Meeting of the Big Minds, or MBM, hosts invitation-only, 15-person retreats for the biggest dreamers and doers, movers and shakers in the world: people who just won't stand for the status quo. WaldoTags creates totally sustainable, ecofriendly nametags and lanyards for conferences, and has already outfitted several TEDx events. Photo credit: Dan Lack
“I believing living the Life Out Loud means always putting yourself in a position to create change, “ said 28 year-old Indian-born entrepreneur Manpreet Singh. “I have never been satisfied with standing on the sidelines or accepting the status quo. There are plenty of opportunities to make a difference in the world, so I’m always looking for a new opportunity that will allow me to put my ideas and talents to good use.” In the late 1990s, when they were still teenagers, Manpreet and his brother Gurpreet started an online social media site similar to Facebook that specifically targeted South Asian-Americans called Desi Vibes. The site was a hit, and helped Manpreet gain name recognition among hundreds of thousands of people in his community. Manpreet left Desi Vibes to work at an investment firm called Profit Investment Management when he was just 17. While managing a $2 billion portfolio at Profit, he managed to obtain a BA in finance from the University of Maryland in just two-and-a-half years, as well as an MBA from Wharton. At 22, he was the youngest person ever to receive the CFA Charter. Moreover, he simultaneously managed the portfolio of a non-profit he founded called the LaKan Foundation. After spending 11 years in the investment industry focusing on technology companies, Manpreet decided to re-join the dot-com world through an online start-up, which he founded along with his brother Gurpreet and a long-time friend, Amandeep. Their company, Seva Call, is a virtual concierge service that seamlessly connects consumers with high quality local businesses over the phone. “Even now, I’m continuing to live my Life Out Loud,” said Manpreet. Photo credit: AJ Bindra
At age 27, Andy Bachman is a self-made multimillionaire. This Bostonian created his first successful business, which did ad word arbitrage, with a classmate while still an undergraduate at Babson College. Next, he cofounded a company built around mobile technology and text messaging. It sold for $60 million. His latest project is a website where consumers can register complaints against big companies and get their money back. Andrew credits his success in business with having “severe ADD” coupled with “a burning desire to be great.” He said, “For you to make it big, your drive has to be like a separate entity that will have to be exorcised at some point. I got some bad press at one point in my career, but I didn’t let that stop me. I’m totally honest, fiercely loyal, and a good person. I just don’t care what other people think.” “Don’t be afraid to get out there,” Andrew stated emphatically. “MBAs are classic case studiers. Plan a bit before you go, figure out your weaknesses, and hire others who can take care of those things. Ask as many questions as you can - it’s the cheapest path to riches in this world. But then go do it. Stop deliberating. Stop messing around. To be someone in this world, you gotta have chutzpah.” Photo credit: Andy Bachman
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