I recently had the honor of speaking to one hundred high school students in 11th and 12th grade in Brooklyn. As I left I had two thoughts on my mind:

  1. I hoped that some of the students would choose to go off (post or pre-college) and build their own companies.
  2. Why the heck would they want to do that after I explained that when I started my last company I made zero money, worked till three in the morning and heard more “nos” than ever before?

After a few days I started to think about a few of the most engaged students I met. I thought about how they might handle a life of not knowing if they can exit big or if they’re going under next week.

The students I really thought about were the ones who continued to raise their hands and ask about how I began and, more importantly, what it’s like to fail. They were laser focused on what I was talking about even as the people next to me discussed their lives as a career DJ, a fashion designer and a game producer from Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto anyone?!).

I began to notice that they had a few things in common (after speaking with their teachers):

  1. They were the ones nailing their grades across the board. Now I don’t believe you need to get straight A’s to build a successful company (in fact many successful businesses were started by drop-outs) but you do need to know how to work across multiple disciplines and these kids had that down.
  2. They had a love for music and science. Both of these subjects require creativity and team work skills. Just like managing people or projects, science and music only work when you actually work together to create one sound or one experiment that doesn’t blow up at the end of the day.
  3. Most importantly, they weren’t afraid to ask questions. I’ve written about this before but it couldn’t have been more true when it came to these students. They had lots of questions and some of them were even a bit uncomfortable to answer (one asked how much money I made). It was okay if they heard a no but more often than not they wouldn’t. People love to help.

I was even more impressed by these students because I knew that most of them never get a chance to learn from other entrepreneurs. Over 2.5 million people live in Brooklyn (where most of these kids reside) and only ~30,000 small businesses exist. The chance that these students get to spend any significant amount of time with a small business owner is pretty slim. But that didn’t seem to stop them from looking out for their future even before they escaped the walls of their high shool.

I for one was quite impressed. I’m sure that many of them will go on to do great thing and I can’t wait to see what they create.