Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Young Innovators: Book Entrepreneurs Under 30

When it comes to changes in the business world, many young people have been at the helm of the revolution: Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire at the age of 23 for FacebookMatt Mullenweg began WordPress at 19; Tavi Gevinson became a preteen sensation because of her blog Style Rookie. While the next young entrepreneur extraordinaire is yet to be discovered, there are some hopefuls from the book industry who are working to change book business as we know it.

But how does a budding entrepreneur take his or her idea and make it reality?

There are many challenges that come along with youth and entrepreneurship. Perhaps Adam Gomolin, Chief Legal Officer of InkShares, which is a company that uses crowdsourcing to fund book publishing projects, outlines it best when he says that, as an entrepreneur, he always needs to “seek balance between the desire to upset the dynamic and the need to respect what already exists.” Walking the thin line between traditional business practices and disruption makes for a tricky balancing act. This is evident in the delicate way that young book entrepreneurs need to introduce their new perspectives to an existing market.

Youth itself has its benefits, which entrepreneurs can capitalize on. Travis Allen, Founder and CEO of iSchool Initiative, a program that is trying to revolutionize education through a grassroots movement advocating the use of contemporary technology, says that “being young [is] the biggest advantage to starting a business now.” With less practical responsibilities, like supporting a family, there is less risk to starting. Allen explains, “Being young, expectations are always low, which means it is so easy to go above and beyond and impress people. You can get your foot in the door where others can’t.” Thad Woodman, Chief Product Officer of InkShares, agrees, saying that while a young person may be inexperienced, “ignorance is the fount of innovation.”

Still, there is much for a young entrepreneur to learn, so taking advantage of educational opportunities has proven helpful. Gomolin cites his various educational experiences at institutions like Wesleyan and Berkeley as vital: “These are the places where I learned to be a heretic, and to talk to other people about ideas, instead of just trying to figure it out on my own.” Anna Lewis, Founder of ValoBox, a reading application that allows readers to “pay-as-you-go” for ebook content, participated in a program called Young Enterprise in college which gave her the tools to set up her company. Even Allen, who is looking to change educational practices, believes that “universities have many resources at your disposal that can really help a start up.” Allen found an organization called Enactus while in college, which provided “mentorship, team members, and a support system to help iSchool without the need of any investors.”

Even with a solid educational background, the learning curve in the business world can still be steep. Seeing flaws in the education system was what prompted Allen to start iSchool. He says, “Our education system is built on memorization and our ability to take a multiple choice test. The real world is nothing like that and it is given a false impression of what the world will look like when we graduate.” For example, though Lewis learned aspects of business from participating in Young Enterprise, she realizes that the true test of ideas lies in the real world. She admits, “The little business that we set up [through Young Enterprise] was nothing like the one I run now.”  Instead of focusing solely on education, Lewis sees benefits to finding contacts in the industry: “Being young and relatively new to an industry means that you are less likely to have contacts and relationships with people, so you have to factor in time to build these up.” These contacts may also be able to help young entrepreneurs learn to “jump through lots of [large clients’] internal hoops…attending all the necessary meetings, providing assurances, prompting people and filling in the right forms can all take a lot of time.”

Gomolin agrees with the importance of seeking out knowledgeable professionals. For example, Richard Nash has promoted InkShares, and this has helped the company garner interest. Gomolin suggests finding individuals that “have climbed the ladder but still want to reimagine things,” and finding people who can trust their younger partners to do good work and report back. It may be a tug of war at first, but trust and mutual respect is key for success.

Learning to work with those higher up can also be a way to learn how to become a leader in building a team. Being a young boss, entrepreneurs need to find their effective management style despite a lack of long term job experience. Gomolin says he treats his team the way he has been treated by his friend and colleague Larry Levitsky, CEO of InkShares, who trustingly tells him and Woodman to “go out and be brilliant,” and so far believes the philosophy has yielded positive results. For Allen, “building a team is vital.” He sees building a team somewhat like parenting: “You are the one who has to keep moral high, mediate team fights, and make sure everyone is taken care of.” For a young entrepreneur, learning to delegate tasks and mediate between people is essential to the success of their company.

A primary reason the barriers to entry have lessened for younger players is that the rate of growth of technology opens up many avenues for new entrepreneurs. For Travis Allen, social media is the reason his company exists. “A YouTube video ended up going viral in the education space. It built a name and brand for me which led to a lot of opportunities,” he explains. Gomolin agrees that technology helps make connections between people quickly, saying that the growth of technology is making it easier to learn skills that one could not learn since research is done so much more quickly. Woodman, his colleague, also found that great technical talent could be found through the Internet., for example, has been an asset in finding these talents.

With hurdles to enter the marketplace decreasing and young entrepreneurs getting savvier with their resources, there are infinite possibilities for book-related start-ups. Entrepreneurship comes in all sorts of forms and young people are engaging more and more with the idea of creating a business that can potentially change existing models and practices. It may be seem difficult, but by finding opportunities to learn and grow, entrepreneurs of all ages can succeed.

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