Common: Perilously settling for a trivial job based on advice from a past era.
Uncommon: In many cases, the most common advice is not the best advice. In a world where one week is completely different from the next, we must look at life through a new lens and be prepared to question the conventional advice we’ve been given about how to lead a “successful life.”
What got us to where we are is not necessarily what will get us to where we want to go. In the following interview, young entrepreneur and author, Scott Gerber, offers his perspective about how to thrive in this new marketplace.
Quick facts about Scott Gerber:
- Age: 27
- Hometown: Staten Island, NY
- Entrepreneur, columnist, angel investor, and public speaker
- Founder and CEO of Gerber Enterprises and Sizzle It!
- Host of the upcoming web video show, Ask Gerber
- Author of the book, Never Get a “Real” Job (Wiley, December 2010)
- Founder of The Young Entrepreneur Council
- His syndicated columns appear regularly in media outlets such as Entrepreneur, Inc., BNET, WSJ, MSNBC, and FOX Business
What you’ve done in a rather short amount of time is very impressive. How did your journey of serial entrepreneurship begin?
I remember the exact moment. I was 18 years old, sitting in back seat of the car with my mother at a traffic light when she asked me what I was going to do with my life, hinting at the fact that I needed to decide on my career path and reinforcing the idea that I needed to get a “real” job. This made perfect sense considering that she had been a teacher for 30 years. The world she knew was about health care, benefits, getting married, have a child, build a career, and retire.
I just didn’t see things that way. I always thought that a career and a lifestyle were one of the same. Deep down I wanted to show that anything was possible and I knew I could not answer to anyone – I wanted control of my life.
Admittedly, I was an egotistical, cocky, arrogant teen who didn’t know what he was doing. As a result, I almost bankrupted myself in my first company. But, at least this attitude encouraged me to get started. My initial failure taught me more about business and life than I ever could have imagined. With this expensive “investment” in myself and only a couple hundred dollars in my bank account, I started a new business and I was convinced to never again let my ego get in the way of my success.
By learning from failure, not wanting to be part of the norm, and passionately avoiding the 9-5 social construct, I have found ways to move myself and my career forward on my own time and on my own dime.
What was one specific instance that made you realize you did not want to be part of the conventional 9-5 work culture?
I was 20 years old and interning for a large company working directly under a power-hungry middle manager (interning was the closest I got to working a 9-5 job). One day I was invited to go to lunch with his superiors who had asked for my feedback about a specific procedure. I was happy to offer my thoughts. What I didn’t know at the time was that the procedure I critiqued was created by the neo-Nazi type middle manager I was working for. When he had got news that I had offered feedback on this process, s#@% hit the fan and he promptly fired me telling me, “How dare you go behind my back,” etc. I found out later that he was fired shortly thereafter and the company had instituted the ideas I had offered.
This was a wake up call for me. I thought, “Why I am I going to work for other people who are using my ideas and my creativity to develop business processes that will only make them more money when I could be doing the same thing for myself?” I figured if I dedicated 10 years to myself versus a corporate job, I would probably be a lot better off as an individual.
Can you share some more details about your first company and why it failed?
Certainly, I call it, “the company that shall not be named.” It’s hard to pinpoint only a few reasons why things went wrong because as I look back it seems I did everything wrong. But with that said, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It laid the foundation for my life perspectives and business success thereafter.
One very important takeaway from this experience was the fact that you have to kill your ego to stay in business because ego destroys rationality. Not just arrogance per se, but how you value money and spend it – or how you treat other people, or the entitlement you feel. All of these things factor into daily decisions.
I also developed a simple equation that helps me best prepare for what may come and how to keep things in perspective: Murphy + Darwin = Reality. Basically, everything that can go wrong probably will go wrong and only the strong will survive. Most of what I learned about business plans and 5-year planning was nonsense. I had been so focused on the big picture that I overlooked the importance of my short-game.
You have a new book soon to be released titled, Never Get a “Real” Job. I love the title. Tell me more about the process of creating this book.
This book is inspired from my many life experiences dating back to the founding of my first business. I had no entrepreneurial experience and no one in my family was an entrepreneur either – in fact, they conspired against me trying to convince me to get “real” by getting a “real” job (hence the title). But I knew that lifestyle simply was not for me.
After failing my first business I knew I needed more information so I went to the library, the bookstore, etc. trying to find a resource that was written by a twenty-something who had started with nothing and managed to create a self-sufficient “be your own boss” lifestyle. I couldn’t find anything. I wasn’t looking for a millionaire’s perspective or someone that was 10 years my elder or a mundane business book.
I wanted a resource created by someone who understood what it was like to:
- Be in college
- Live with your parents after college
- Not get the respect you thought you deserved
- Not live up the expectations of your family
- Blaze your own path in a conformist’s world
Years later, after doing all of the legwork, research, and trial-and-error myself I began writing for Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc., and other publications and it occurred to me that a resource like this still did not exist. There wasn’t a “real-deal”, no-BS guidebook showing how other twenty and thirty-somethings were doing business today, as the economy exists, in the “real world.” That is why I wrote Never Get A “Real” Job.
How do you define “real” job? And what, instead, should people be pursuing if not a “real” job?
A “real” job to me what the 9-5 employee considers what they are forced to do every day. It’s what we do day-in and day-out because it’s such a part of our social construct we don’t question it.
When people say, “Oh, that’s my ‘real’ job,” they often say it with such disdain because they don’t feel they can find sustainable work outside of that construct. They don’t want to work within that norm, but at the same time, they don’t know how to get out of it.
A “real” job is one where you have a boss and have no real control over your financial future – an occupation that you are not happy working at and does not offer the potential growth opportunities that most interest you. The “real” job versus the “job of your dreams” (one of your own creation and design) is really the differentiation between the two.
What did you find most surprising while writing and researching Never Get a “Real” Job?
The statistics. The numbers are staggering. What blows my mind is that more people are not talking about young entrepreneurship and youth unemployment. Today, youth unemployment is an epidemic. The United Nations International Labor Organization recently shared that 81 million young people world wide are unemployed – and that is the highest number in history on record. Remember, these figures reflect a population that wants a job, not just full time students who are not interested in employment.
In a day and age where we still talk about sending resumes out in high quantities, I have to ask, “Why are we still trying to fight our way into a system that doesn’t want us instead of saying, ‘screw the system, let’s work our way around it, overcome it, defeat it, and put it where it deserves to be 6 feet under.’”
In July of this year (2010) 51% of 16 – 24 year olds were unemployed in the US. Since 2007, 40% of 18 – 29 years olds were unemployed or underemployed. These are scary numbers that show our current systems are not working. Yet society still dictates that you get a good job by going to college and getting good grades. Is that really the way it should be? I think not.
Who is the audience for your message/book and why do you feel passionate about reaching this group?
The concept of taking one’s employment as their own versus taking it from others is a universal theme. Anyone can take the evergreen content I share in my columns and in my book and apply it to their life. But I consider my core mission to help Gen-Yers overcome youth unemployment and underemployment by challenging the nonsense they have been told by MTV, their parents, and their mentors throughout their entire life and restructure the way they approach life in the modern world. More than anything, young people need a practical education that is going to allow them to become successful in the world as we know it today and create income on their own.
I want to show young people how to take initiative to be in control. And I feel Gen-Y needs this message the most. We’ve been too coddled for too long and we’re too entitled. Most of us don’t have our heads on straight because we’re so worried about being rich by 30 or picking up beautiful men or women in a bar (and all of the other inconsequential nonsense things) that we’re not thinking about what is really happening around us and how we can capitalize on the opportunities today to create a better tomorrow.
What do you feel are the top 3 myths about the “real world”?
Only 3, huh? Haha. Well, let’s see:
- Work hard, go to school, get good grades, and you will eventually have a good life. This mantra is not applicable or relevant in this day and age. For example, prettying up your resume to send out blind is senseless. I had one person send me an email saying she had sent out 200 resumes without hearing a single response – and this was an MBA student from a respected school! I think that approach is a waste of money, energy, and time. It’s like putting a quarter into a broken arcade game, seeing it doesn’t work, but then putting in another quarter hoping for a different outcome.
- Nothing will ever happen as you plan it. I could not have planned for everything that I now have in my life. The best things happen because you make them happen, but… failure happens as well. Markets change, demands will change, products will change, servicing needs will need to be adapted, unforeseen competitors appear, lawsuits will happen, etc. This is why entrepreneurs are problem-solvers first and foremost. We’re not risk-takers or going-for-broke people, and we’re certainly not pencil pushers who can’t do anything without a plan. Expect the unexpected and be willing to get started in spite of this uncertainty. You have to be prepared to live in a world that is ever changing.
- “Real” jobs offer stability. I hear this all of the time – especially from my mother who was a 30-year tenured teacher. However, the job market today is not the place it used to be (and finally, my mother is starting to see that this is true). As one example, there are many people who want to go into government employment and they can’t get work because the tax revenue isn’t there; because the budget cuts are still occurring; because of numerous other reasons. So where do the new “future jobs” come from? Entrepreneurship. A “real” job is not recession proof, it’s not in your control, and this conventional work culture thrives because of the fear that you won’t have one. And this should not be the way that we are told to live and plan for our futures. I don’t foresee job “stability” of the past returning any time soon. It’s time for a new paradigm, a new approach to life and work and the relationship between the two.
What 3 pieces of advice would you offer aspiring self-employed entrepreneurs?
- Be unoriginal. I know this is contrarian, but I believe it. We often hear about the mega-success stories such as Facebook and feel inclined to start the next rock star company. But that is not the way forward for 99.9999% of people in our generation. We need to be thinking less about Facebook and more about dry cleaners, delis, business-to-business services, and so on – practical things that society needs. These are businesses we can start with low infrastructure, low cost, and can be moved forward because they are simple, not complex. We don’t need to revolutionize the wheel. When people over think business and complicate things to the point of trying to change the world through unprecedented innovation, they are likely to get run over by the same wheel they are trying to revolutionize.
- Assess what you want to do and determine if it’s a money-maker or a money-pit. A money-maker is something that you can relatively easily assess potential costs and revenues and plan for business in X and Y ways. A money-pit is often something that gives no concrete clues about potential gains or when/how those gains might come. It’s a venture whereby the owner usually says, “If I just keep throwing money at it and make it bigger, when the traction takes off and the stars align, it’s going to be massive.” Instead, you want to make sure you have a real, money-making business concept. Too many Gen-Yers are too concerned about starting a $10mm company that they just end up chasing their tail.
- You are not going to get investment dollars. Everybody thinks that they should start a company by raising capital, build fast, and then cash out. But capital is not always the best means to an end. Stop thinking about VCs and stop thinking about Angels. You need to come up with a business that you can start yourself with the resources you have and then build over time. You may not be able to have a restaurant on day one, but there is no reason you can’t have a good delivery service on college campuses. You have to re-think the way a non-original business can work.
Is there any other advice you’d like you’d like to share?
Never be afraid to fail. But… you should be afraid to close your eyes and wake up 10 – 20 years from now and see that you have never failed. Be afraid to have a long string of dead-end jobs lacking fulfillment. But one thing you should not be afraid of is to never get a “real” job. There is plenty of opportunity today to act as an entrepreneur and find a way to work for yourself – this is the entire message of Never Get A “Real” Job.
Want to learn more about Scott Gerber?
You can visit Scott at www.nevergetarealjob.com He currently running a clever contest called, Death to the resume, where people compete to destroy their resume in the most creative way possible and then pitch your business idea to the community who will vote for the best.
Scott’s great new book, Never Get a “Real” Job is now available everywhere books are sold.
Have a question? Ask the Young Entrepreneur Council:
Scott is also the creator of The Young Entrepreneur Council which is comprised of the world’s top young entrepreneurs, business owners and thought leaders. If you’re looking for no-BS advice from these young entrepreneurs with real world experience, you can ask the council a question here.
Scott definitely shares his message with real conviction. What your thoughts about never getting a “real” job? Post your comments below.