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Maybe The Best Way To Change the World Is To Start a Company

By - February 26, 2015

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(imageThis piece from Smithsonian caught my eye today – Young People Mistrust Government So Much They Aren’t Running for Office. It covers a Rutgers professor who studies millennial attitudes towards politics, and concludes that the much-scrutinized generation abhors politics – logging a ten point decrease in sentiment toward government in just the past decade or so.

But I have a different take on why our recent college and high school graduates aren’t opting for politics, and it has to do with a far more positive reason: This is the first generation to come of age in an era where “entrepreneur” is not only a viable career option, it’s actually a compelling one.

I’ve never had a real job I didn’t make myself – back when I was starting out some 25+ years ago, the only path that seemed to make sense for me was joining a startup (job #1), or making one myself (jobs #2-7). I started out well before the Internet, and before the 1990s boom which brought the idea of a college-dropout CEO to the fore of our cultural conscience. Sure, we had Bill Gates, but he was a complete outlier, not a demarcation of a trend, as Zuckerberg became during the Web 2 era.

Back in the early 1990s, my friends and family struggled to understand what it was I was doing with my life. It was as if I had some kind of undiagnosed disease – I was addicted to risk, and clearly allergic to “real work.”

But think of the options a smart kid has coming out of college these days. Not only has company creation become mainstream and entirely acceptable, we’ve built scores of institutions that teach and enable company creation – from Babson to Slack to Y Combinator. I recently met with Sam Altman, CEO of YC, who told me his company receives more applications to his program each year than Stanford does. How many apps does Stanford get? About 40,000!

Cynicism aside, the main reason anyone wants to get into politics is to make positive change in the world. And I believe thoughtful young people are taking a hard look at our major change-making institutions – government, religion, education, and corporations – and they’re deciding that the best way to have an impact is to start a company (or join one). And more and more, those companies are focused on creating positive change in the world. To which I can only say: Right on!

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2 thoughts on “Maybe The Best Way To Change the World Is To Start a Company

  1. Matt LaClear says:

    Change is not always a bad thing. Change only becomes suspect when it starts to mimic the status quo! Will this new generation of entrepreneurs become just like the old guard? On the other hand, change is a part of life. Companies are learning that the quickest way to become obsolete is to ignore the changing landscape.

    I predict that more and more people will enroll in educational programs centered around creating a company. There’s a younger generation that sees the writing on the wall…and they’re responding. Thanks for a thoughtful take on the subject.

  2. Darrin Mish says:

    Many people think that entrepreneurs are only focused on trying to make as much money as possible quickly, but I like the point of view offered by this article. However, I think it’s important to remember that the biggest changes can only be made by businesses that are ultimately successful. If a company can’t ever get started, its potential positive impact is voided.

    Does anyone else find that it’s challenging to focus on your company’s ultimate values and goals when the money isn’t flowing in as well as usual?

    I think that the challenging financial conditions that many entrepreneurs face causes many of them to forget about what made them what to start in the first place.