Going for it: Young entrepreneurs have little to lose

By By Edward M. Eveld

The Kansas City Star (MCT)

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Beckett didn’t care that much about dinosaurs, but he noticed everybody else did. They wore dinosaur backpacks. So he went to his grandparents’ and made dinosaur printouts, bundled them into picture packets and sold them at recess.

“This went on for a few days,” he says. “But it got shut down. Apparently selling things to other kids was not OK.”

With tea, he cares. He believes tea should be people’s drink of choice rather than coffee or energy drinks. Tea is healthy and more efficient to produce, about half the cost of a cup of coffee.

But he knows what he’s up against.

Tea continues to have a branding problem, he said. If tea is overly associated with folks who do yoga and prefer wheatgrass shakes — not that there’s anything wrong with those things — then lots of other people won’t think tea is for them.

Beckett wants his Hugo Tea Co. to succeed financially, but he also wants to create a tea culture.

“The more tea people drink in lieu of everything else, everybody wins,” he said.

Beckett became an expert about tea and the tea trade all over the world, contacting and hiring brokers and agents to import what he considers the best.

At his warehouse, which he shares with another company, Beckett blends, flavors and packs tea for area coffee shops, food service vendors and some 50 supermarkets.

He hires contractors for assistance as needed but has no permanent employees. On weekends you might see him at a nearby grocery store offering samples.

Meanwhile, he lives frugally, no cable TV or Internet, and he plows any freed-up money back into the company.

So far, so good. But one of the most important things he can say about the launch last December is that he did it.

“I had goals and plans, sure, but I had to figure things out as I went,” he said. “You really just have to get going.”

Brock Blake, CEO of the business loan company Lendio and a contributing writer to Forbes, is an unbridled advocate for folks like Beckett, 20-somethings who just want to get going.

Blake acknowledges a bias: He began his entrepreneurial career at age 24, which led to his part in the launch of the Utah-based Lendio when he was 29.

He loves the 20s risk profile — little to lose and everything to gain. He loves that 20-somethings are willing to get by on ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. He loves their fresh minds.

“As you get into your career, people teach you that here’s the box, here are the parameters, this is how you should do it, and you start believing it,” Blake said.

“But young people can be more innovative because all you think about is the best way to solve a problem.”

That doesn’t put them in a vacuum, he said. They learn by doing, but they also seek out mentors and tap into community resources.

Thom Ruhe, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, also enjoys the story of the young entrepreneur. That was Ruhe back at age 24, a few months before getting married, when he told his fiancee he hated his corporate job and was quitting for a new venture.

Now he’s married with three kids and has experienced several startups — which is to say a later-in-life scenario works, too. He acknowledges the “gut check” was pretty severe in his last company when he and his partners guaranteed a multimillion-dollar line of credit, his family’s assets ultimately on the line.

The numbers show that the largest amount of entrepreneurship activity is within an age group that averages 39 years old, Ruhe said. No doubt many are experienced people better able to get access to capital.