What is the best advice you can give to a 17-year-old who is planning to run a startup?

Austin Wilshire
Aug 10, 2017 · 3 min read

This was a question I answered on Quora the other day. I found it particularly relevant, because 2 years ago I was a 17 year old planning to do the same thing, and it felt like there was more to expand on in the answer I gave.

Just after I turned 18, I started working at a startup called iRecruit. They recently aired on Australia’s Shark Tank, but the company didn’t get to celebrate that because it no longer exists. In February 2017, they went into liquidation. Working at this startup taught me a lot, and it made me realise that I need experience before I even think of trying to do this myself.

Before working at iRecruit, I was quite a cocky 18 year old who thought he knew what startups and programming were all about. I was dead wrong, and I’ll never be right about that. The minute I walked into the offices at iRecruit, I was quite shocked to find out I actually didn’t know it all. So, lesson one for 17 year old’s who are planning to start a startup — You likely know absolutely nothing, even though it feels like you know everything. You have a bit of growing up to do, and that’s ok. Be patient.

During those 9 months, I learned more than I thought was possible about programming and startups. I learned about what it takes to be a half decent developer, not only at a startup, but at any company. There are fundamental lessons to learn that self taught programmers will hate at first — version control, documentation, unit tests and actually testing your code and getting other people to test it are just a few basics that any production app should have.

An added bonus to these basics, learning about what makes a good CI/CD pipeline was mind blowing for someone like me, who just ssh’d into a server and copied files to launch a new version of their app. So, lesson two for 17 year old’s wanting to run/build a tech startup — Get some damn experience in a software company. You will learn an awesome amount of skills, and your chances of success will rise significantly because you’ll have some idea of what you’re doing.

Technical skills aside, what really helps when you take your swing at a startup is being good at solving a problem for a group of people. Even better, is being able to admit your product is wrong and pivot. In the 9 months I was with iRecruit, we pivoted twice from the original idea. While that’s terribly inefficient, we finally found a solid product. Pity we burned all our cash. So, lesson three would need to be — Be humble, you’re allowed to be wrong. With lesson four being — keep your costs low and keep cash in the bank. Rushing ahead of your product with investor money is a terrible idea, and will only end with burned bridges and debts to repay.

My final piece of advice to teenagers wanting to work in a tech startup is this; build up your skills and meet founders of startups. Build your technical skills, sales skills, communication skills. Meet as many founders as possible and learn from them and what they’re doing. This has been an extremely exciting and rewarding journey so far, and I dare you to go out and meet entrepreneurs and people working in startups.

Hopefully, if you’re a starry-eyed teenager and have read this, you realise you aren’t quite ready to run a tech startup. There’s no doubt you can be a teenage entrepreneur and run a business, and you’ll learn a lot of valuable skills. But a teenager running a tech startup? Just be patient, and get just a few months (ideally more than that) experience before taking a swing. You will increase your odds of success dramatically. You have a long road ahead, may as well make it a little less painful.

My name is Austin Wilshire, I write about software development, personal development and startups. You can follow me on Twitter @awoldes.

Austin Wilshire

Written by

Australian student, systems engineer interested in distributed computing, SRE and finance

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