Why are millennials choosing risky startups over traditional careers?

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While the rest of the world seems intent on shaming millennials for being lazy, conceited, disloyal, or largely overrated, there’s some seriously cool projects being spearheaded by this generation of degenerates. Have you seen Inc.’s 30 under 30 list?! We’re seriously impressed.

At the heart of it, millennials may be the most entrepreneurial generation yet. The jury’s still out (many of us are still trying to remember to switch our laundry from machine to dryer, so cut us some slack), but some studies have shown that this generation’s appetite for risk and entrepreneurial chops will change the makeup of the workforce and the way we define career success.

A Fortune Magazine profile describes how

“millennials are discovering entrepreneurship significantly earlier than boomers did. While the older generation launched their first businesses at roughly 35 years old, so-called ‘millennipreneurs’ are setting out around 27 — which means some of them already have almost a decade of experience.”

(Yes, we’re cringing at the word millennipreneurs too, but bear with us…)

Head to San Francisco for a long weekend and witness every under-30-year-old as far as the eye can see starting their own company, creating the next big app, building a custom platform, or fixing a problem you didn’t know needed fixing. Millennials are undoubtedly choosing to take greater risks earlier in their careers than playing it safe. But why?

Cynics call this generation idealistic, but we see things differently. Sure, millennials have a passion thing going on (more on that in a bit), but there’s something bigger going on here. So, before you write off your neighbor’s idea for starting a late-night on-demand cinnamon bun delivery service, let’s dig a little deeper into the mindset driving these delicious nontraditional career paths:

Millennials define success differently.

Whereas other generations spent their careers angling for a corner office and title that starts with “C,” millennials care more about their independence. In fact:

  • “only 13% of survey respondents said their career goal involves climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president.”
  • “By contrast, almost two-thirds (67%) of said their goal involves starting their own business.”

Not only that, but millennials want more flexibility than a traditional 9-to-5 can offer:

“A full 77% of millennials say that flexible work hours are a key to boosting productivity within their generation (even though 31% of them acknowledge that flexible hours can aggravate the perception that they lack a strong work ethic).”

PSA: flexible work hours doesn’t mean working less. On the contrary, even when millennials are technically off the clock, they’re still connected (check out this Fast Company article for more details).

Success is about the balance between work and life: to this generation, sitting at your desk and waiting for the boss to leave just so you can score extra points toward a promotion seems pointless.

They view work as part of their identity.

Whether starting a company based on their passion, or disillusioned by the financial meltdown of 2008, millennials feel that their career is central to their identity. “Whereas previous generations saw their job merely as a means for security and to pay their mortgage and bills, millennials strive for careers that fulfill them, and act as extensions of their personality,” says to one such millennial entrepreneur.

What does that mean in practice? Much like wanting a work life balance, millennials want their work to mean something, and after the financial meltdown of 2008, working at a corporation doesn’t meet that criteria so much.

“Deloitte’s 2015 millennial survey found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organization is making full use of their skills.”

So, if changing the world is important to you, and so is making money to sustain yourself, but your company doesn’t care about your skills or the world, of course you’re going to want to be a bit more entrepreneurial. Makes sense to us.

Plus, the economy has given millennials a rough go of it.

One of the reasons why millennials get mixed reviews on the truthiness of their entrepreneurial instincts is that the economy has been packing a punch for anyone trying to start their career in the last decade. Pessimists say that crushing student loans and and financial insecurity have caused this generation to go through some “false starts” in moving out of mom and dad’s basement and getting a “real” job. Thanks for the support, btw.

We’d argue that all this hardship has actually given millennials a greater appetite for risk. When companies are on a hiring freeze and student loans are still due, it takes grit, creativity, and an appetite for more risk to keep moving forward.

And, they’re more open to failure.

Maybe it’s because they’re still young and hopeful, and maybe it’s because they’ve been taught that failure is still a good learning experience (just read books like The Lean Startup and you’ll feel compelled to fail up). But truly, millennials don’t see failure as a career-ending, seppuku-inducing mess.

Actually, millennials see failure differently than baby boomers. “‘Before, failure was considered a stop in your career,’” says Remi Frank, Head of Key Client Group & Professional Banking at BNP Paribas Wealth Management. He continues, “‘Today, you can easily fail’ and keep going. ‘We don’t know if all the 7.7 companies [millennials] have created are successful.’”

Even millennials who are finding success in their traditional careers are itching to get risky: “66% of millennials want to leave their steady careers to jump start their own ventures.” Embrace the #fail, get ahead.

Millennials are more tech fluent

Anyone who’s ever had to teach their boss how to attach a file to an email knows what we mean. We don’t need to rehash how social media has changed the way we work. Any millennial worth his or her salt is tired of hearing how Facebook altered the way we connect in AMAZING and UNEXPECTED ways.

What is interesting about this generation’s tech fluency is that being an entrepreneur, or joining a risky startup, can mean many different things. You can be a freelancer, and run your entire client base through sites like Cloudpeeps or Upwork. You can work remotely, and be a web developer serving a company in San Francisco from a co-working space in Bali. You can be a solopreneur, and crowdsource your project on sites like Fiverr, Kickstarter, or Product Hunt.

Tech fluency opens the world of entrepreneurship to anyone with a good idea and the interest, passion, and ambition to make it happen. That risky startup looks a lot less risky when you realize how many products and companies are available to help you find success.

What did we we miss? Are there other key factors unique to millennials that make them more apt to choose #startuplyfe over a traditional career path? Or are we way, way off? Let us know by tweeting to @bullit_me and share your opinion.