As people grow older, they tend to underemphasize their age. When prompted, they’ll show off their by now seasoned equivocation. As a member of Generation Z, though, any achievement seems to receive credibility boosters. Dropping the “Oh, by the way, I’m not 18 yet” humble brag/vulnerability acknowledgment appears to go a long way.
This statement is a double-edged sword for a naïve entrepreneur. A desire to make impactful change while “lowkey” feeling underqualified attracts myriad responses. On the one end, long-time adults love taking on mentees who may turn out to be the next Zuckerberg. On the other, showing inexperience can also lend itself to being taken advantage of. As a minor player on the world’s stage, it’s easy to grab on to any mentorship. Often, this occurs without questioning potential ulterior motives. These are often implied by the words “40% equity” for some alluring fee. This fee almost always ends up a fraction of actual company value – no one buys into an idea they don’t believe in.
That’s the challenge in business. While social impact and relationships matter, many define success on the balance sheet. After all, the stories of noble intentions receive attention if they’re profitable. The invisible hand requires economic incentives to play a role in mentorship.
Showing Vulnerability to Initiate Trust
Integrity and humility carry the label “secondary” to success. Yet, these values foster the most rewarding relationships. Business, at the end of the day, is foremost a social venture. Personal qualities make or break a CEO; soft skills deserve more credit. Asking for advice is perhaps the most effective way to learn who to trust as a teenage entrepreneur. Those motivated by money alone turn down requests on grounds of “lack of profitability”. If they do opt in, their mentorship may undermine the business philosophy. Attempting to “cash in ASAP” in a world of instant gratification (#instacash) corrupts relationships.
Those who care, though, will respond. Mark Cuban did when an 18-year old Texan cold-emailed him. Trying to juggle the rigorous IB high school diploma and a huge VC fund, it was a long shot. Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say, and the odds must be too. At a Mavs game, the two bonded over some dagger fadeaway spin moves by the 7-foot Schnitzel. Note: I am German and thus a fan of Dirk by citizenship requirements. Aaron Easaw received advice from one of the best in the business. And he learned he could trust Cuban once the topic of investment came up when Cuban offered to back Aaron. Without the friendship they had forged, any agreement on money would have been off the table.
Many are afraid to look foolish reaching out, yet not reaching out makes people foolish. Steph Curry received mockery and criticism, yet he was willing to take on advice and improve. He is now an unlikely MVP and NBA champion (if you read this, Steph, keep up the great work!). Shutting others out means missing out on the great wealth of knowledge and experience to tap into. That’s worth the sacrifice showing vulnerability may bring.
In my TEDxYouth talk, I emphasized that the ability to share your ideas is your most valuable asset. Sharing ideas, regardless of quality, encourages dialogue. It also exposes your ideas to feedback and criticism to help you grow. Making yourself vulnerable reveals the qualities of those around you. How they respond to weakness can show either dignity or ignorance. Opening up tells you more about others by their response than it tells them about your weaknesses.
Reaching out is an invitation for the other to do so too. A certain Richard engaged in frequent conversation as a schoolboy with subpar academic achievement. The sociable boy transformed his purity of mind into Virgin. Sir Richard Branson is now a cultural icon.
Every single person reading this right now can reveal weakness to business partners. It is rewarding to help someone in a situation you have experienced. Helping a mentee navigate with wisdom and perspective provides meaning in a mentor’s struggle. Trust matters, and it’s bred through vulnerability.
You’ll have to trust me on that one.
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