Looking to leave the 9 to 5 life and start hustling for yourself? The gig economy and artisanal craftsmanship boom have put working on your own terms within reach. But how do you know what goes into starting a business or when to make the leap? Here are the stories of two successful Millennial entrepreneurs to help you decide.
Discover Your Idea by Solving Your Own Problems
Lisa Curtis, 25, is the CEO and founder of the food products company Kuli Kuli, which makes snack bars and powder supplements from moringa, a superfood from West Africa. With a degree in politics and environmental studies from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, she describes herself as “a very unlikely food entrepreneur.” Curtis found her inspiration after a trip to Tunisia as a Peace Corps volunteer.
While working in the village health center she saw malnourished patients everyday, and soon she began to show signs of malnutrition herself. Friends of hers told her about moringa, a local plant that made her feel better almost instantly. Curtis was struck by the power of the plant, and then quickly confronted another problem. Moringa is highly nutritious and powerful, but the domestic and international markets for the crop are small because it is perceived as something you eat when you’ve run out of everything else, so farmers are reticent to grow it.
Curtis returned to the US after her stint in the Peace Corps and started Kuli Kuli to create a bigger market for the plant. She also works closely with non-profits to educate people on proper nutrition. “It’s one of the most nutritious plants growing in an area with no food,” she says, adding, “‘I know how to fix this problem’ is a great rallying cry.”
Find Product-Market Fit
As the founder and editor of the website The Art of Manliness, Brett McKay receives pitches constantly from would-be entrepreneurs looking for exposure on his heavily trafficked men’s lifestyle publication. “Young Millennials don’t like the corporate thing,” he says. “They want their own business. They want to be artisans and craftsmen.”
However, he’s quick to note many Millennials skip over one crucial question: “How are you going to differentiate yourself from your competition?”
Would-be entrepreneurs need to identify an existing need in the market, then fill it in a unique way. “Being an artisan is super competitive,” says McKay, “you have to set yourself up as being above and beyond everyone else.” He says the most important question after “How am I going to differentiate myself from the competition?” is, “How am I going to be more useful than everyone else out there?”
To Quit or Not To Quit?
When Curtis launched Kuli Kuli she didn’t quit her job. “I never saw it as a business at first,” she says. Only after completing the highest funded food campaign in IndieGoGo history did she say to herself, “I guess I’m quitting my day job.”
Despite being a former law student turned full-time blogger, McKay describes himself as risk averse. “I would never tell someone to quit their job,” he says. “I’m all about pursuing your dreams, but pursue them on the side and transition,” he says. He also believes would-be freelancers and entrepreneurs should be realistic about the difficulties that come with leaving the workaday world. “When you own a business, you’re constantly thinking about it.”
McKay routinely puts in 60-70 hour work weeks running The Art of Manliness. “If I want to take a vacation, I have to work twice as hard the week before. Can you handle that?” he asks. “If not, stay at your corporate job with your vacation pay, sick time, weekends off and regular paychecks.”
While striking out on your own is hard, both Curtis and McKay stand as testament to the fact that it can be done. “I’m a big believer in hustle,” says McKay. “A lot of people like the idea of being an entrepreneur but don’t want to put in the work.”
If you’re ready to start hustling there’s no reason you can’t build an independent and fulfilling life in 2015. Get going!