Being 23 years old, an entrepreneur, and the CEO of Recoup Fitness, certainly comes with challenges. Among these challenges is gaining the respect of those around you, including the older generation of business leaders. Through hard work, trial, error, and engaging with numerous successful people, I’ve learned a lot. Here are my four tips to be taken seriously as a young entrepreneur:

1) Passion

Passion is key to anything in life and business is no exception. Passion transforms your business and job into a mission. Passion has kept me going through 18 hour work days and has carried me through the dark times where I couldn’t see the light. It has compelled me to make sacrifices and has given me strength to persevere through rejection, energy to reach out to countless people, and has lead me to my greatest successes. Your time is too valuable a commodity to waste, and life is too short to live without passion, so if you aren’t passionate about your business then quit, move on, and find something else that you can pour yourself into. You can’t expect others to be excited about your business if you aren’t excited yourself.

One of the first things people and investors take notice of is the passion with which you express yourself. Regardless of their predispositions for or against your product or idea, they will have a hard time ignoring your passion. Passion has even shown the capacity to turn all the no’s I’ve received into a fertile soil from which the company has grown and thrived. Many investors haven’t opened up their pocket books for me but, upon seeing the passion I had, many still wanted to help and have opened up their networks to me, connecting me to others who could help the company succeed. One time, humbled, I asked an investor what compelled him to share his network, and he referred to my passion. People love to see you striving to live life to the fullest, and when they see that spark, they want to kindle it, and see it grow into a raging fire.

When trying to convey passion I’ve found that it helps to pay attention to the tone of your voice. Studies by Burgoon proved that by properly fluctuating your vocal intonations you can achieve greater influence, creditability and confidence.  In most of my conversations my tone is “normal” and low frequency, but when I converse about my business I fluctuate my intonation to add emphasis and convey heart.

So, as you talk about your business, influx your voice, convey how you feel, and illustrate how your business progresses the world in a positive manner.

2) Research, Research, Research

There are three types of research that can help you gain a competitive advantage: personal  research, industry and product research,  and “transcendent” research (which I will explain below).

Personal Research

Before you meet with anyone, research them in depth.

I learned this lesson in a particularly poignant fashion meeting Courtney Reum.  Courtney is one of my heroes. Once featured on the “30 under 30” list, Courtney found business success in his 20’s, starting off as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs working with such brands as Procter & Gamble, Under Armour and Vitamin Water. Using his branding expertise he founded and built up his own company, VEEV liquor with his brother.

I had a general idea of what Courtney was about and was excited to meet with him and pitch Recoup Fitness but when he asked me questions of what he could do for my business I faltered. Courtney put me in my place.  He said this “from now on, you research anyone you talk to in depth.” This meant, not only looking at their background, but reading articles they  wrote, watching YouTube videos they have, studying them on social media , finding out other businesses they are in, talking with people who have worked with them, etc…

Don’t just pay attention to their resources, but also to their skills, interests, specialties, goals, and who they are.

My encounter with Courtney may sound like a huge fail but it wasn’t.  I was lucky that Courtney was gracious enough to mentor and teach me. I was able to learn from one of my heroes. Courtney even took our product to the 49ers, paving the way for a strong business connection, and his lesson has served me well going forward.

Industry and Product Research

Find the greatest minds in your industry, research their quotes, their thoughts on the industry and where the industry is going. These experts in your field have been there for some time and know the industry better than anyone else.  Demonstrating your knowledge of the industry and referencing experts immediately increases your credibility and the interest of people you are pitching your company to.

Also research current products on the market and your competitors. Acknowledge what they do well and look for things that can be improved. This research can be the basis for coming up creative and innovative ideas and products that truly differentiate themselves from the rest of the market, adding value to your business.

Transcendent Research

Your research shouldn’t just be bound to your industry, and you should always be hungry to learn. When your research transcends your particular industry, it allows for new and creative insights into how to solve problems that may elude those with a narrower vision. An excellent example is how Teflon-coated  fiberglass was originally developed as a material for astronaut space suits, but clever engineers in architecture noted the material and its advantageous properties. It is now used for roofing and creating sports superdomes, such as Atlanta’s Georgia Superdome.

The business world is full of intellectual conversation, which requires never-ending research. Eleanor Roosevelt is oft quoted as saying ” Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” In business, the conversations about parties, girls, and teachers, that we had in college won’t cut it. We need to have wide knowledge into various areas, from technology, to recent events, even to philosophical discourse and ideas.  Many people we encounter in business are interested in self-actualizing, are driven to be the best they can be, and are constantly learning. The best way to engage these people is on the plane of ideas and things that are of the highest relevance. Being able to have such conversations will command respect and appreciation, and also make you a better person yourself.

3) Relationships

Relationships are of the utmost importance in business. Marcus Lemonis,  CEO of Camping World, Good Sam Enterprises, and star of CNBC’s The Profit, has popularized 3 keys to business success : people, product, and process. It is telling that his first key is “people”. That is why Marcus does not own anything in the stock market; he cannot see the people behind the business.  I had the opportunity to hear him speak and he gave one the greatest talks I have ever heard. He spoke in depth about people and relationships. In my opinion, if you can connect with Marcus he will take a risk on you. Money is only an object but relationships last forever

If you are able, try to connect with someone beyond a business relationship, and start developing a friendship. This will help not only your business but will also will help your life to become more beautiful and full. People will begin to treat you as a peer instead of kid, and come to understand appreciate you for who you are regardless of age. Once treated you are treated as a peer, you will be able to build a relationship based on mutual respect.

You may ask, “How do I develop such a relationship?” Relating back to my second tip, start by researching them. Mention something about the college they went to, ask them about their kids and family, or ask about any hobbies or passions they may pursue.  Everybody likes to talk about themselves, if they feel that the other person truly cares. Ask them questions and value their responses, stories, and experiences. Look at it as a date; ask questions until you find something in common and expand on that.

These conversations and relationships also provide the perfect opportunity to learn. Ask why they got into the industry and ask them for advice. Ask questions like, “If you were me how would you go about this company?” These types of questions increase your knowledge about the person and their knowledge of you, which, in turn, helps forge a relationship built on empathy and mutuality. “You can’t judge until you walked a mile in their shoes.” Relationships are an exchange of persons and, when it comes down to it, a big part of that is being able to look at the world from the other person’s point of view.

4) Honesty

Honesty is tantamount to helping you find the best team, grow your business, and even find yourself. There is no excuse for dishonesty, and it is important to always hold yourself to the highest standard of integrity. The benefits for your own character are obvious, but people will do incredible things for individuals and companies that they trust and respect.

I learned the value true of this trait from Pivot Desk Founder, David Mandell. Honesty takes courage. To be honest is to be vulnerable. IT IS OK TO BE VULNERABLE! It shows that you are human.

It’s easy to look at our culture and the so-called cutthroat business world and think that any semblance of vulnerability is to be avoided, however, in growing my start-up, I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Possible investors have been in your position and can relate. Confidently express your grand company vision and pitch them on the possibility of company growth, but be honest about the numbers and where the company is at. Investors can relate to the struggle and want to work with people of integrity. They want to know that, if things go south, you will be honest and do whatever it takes to fix it. Honesty gives investors the chance offer you the help that you need, even if it’s not always the help you wanted. You might not get the big investment but they might open up new networks to you, or give you necessary advice.

Within your company, be honest to your team. Startup life can be a roller coaster ride but a good team will stand with you through all the ups and downs. Even if the combination of honesty and hard truth causes a member of the team to leave, your company is better off without them. There are plenty of good people out there willing to take a risk for a great idea or vision, and you owe it to yourself and the business to surround yourself with the most authentic, loyal, and talented people.

Be honest to yourself as well. Startups often stretch you to the limits of your mental faculties. Each day, you have to wake up with undying optimism, knowing that your company will make it even if you still have no idea what the hell you are doing. But I’ve learned a lot from successful entrepreneurs, and it is clear from their stories they had no idea what they were doing either, but they kept pushing regardless. They learned how to use their strengths and account for their weaknesses as they climbed to greater heights . They didn’t take the safe route and lie to themselves. Instead, every day, they embraced the heavy mantle of reality and allowed it to forge them into someone greater than could have imagined.

I use to lie all the time, to be cool and impress people. In reality all it did was make me lose friends, girlfriends and got me in trouble. I learned the hard way, from experience, that honesty is the best way to find out who are and what you want to be.  But this lesson has paid off and put me in the position I am in today. A position where I wake up every single day living my dream at 23 with opportunities to do things that most kids my age dream about. I get to live life to the fullest, engage my passions, and meet incredible people. Most importantly, every morning, I wake up happy and thankful.


Click here to learn more about the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship.

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