Startup Marketing Tips From EY’s Youth Entrepreneur of the Year

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The following is from Dagim Girma, a marketing and communications intern at BMV.

My name is Dagim Girma. I’m 19 years old and I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since I can remember. I started my first business when I was 9. In my junior year of high school, I created a sports media company called The Audible, a website that creates and publishes content for young sports fans by young sports fans.

In just a few years, we’ve grown from an operation run by five of my closest friends to a site that’s received over half a million unique visitors. While we cover all things sports, our true mission is to promote career advancement and entrepreneurialism.

The Audible has taken me on a remarkable journey. I’ve been invited to the White House to speak with President Obama. I’ve worked with leaders like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kevin Plank and Richard Fairbank. And in 2015, I was named the 2015 EY Global Youth Entrepreneur of the Year. During this roller coaster, I’ve learned many things that I want to share with budding entrepreneurs.

Here are five of them:

Your customers are your most powerful weapons

As a young entrepreneur, it’s easy to become short sighted and fixated on an idea that you believe in. Early on, I spent far too much time trying to develop and execute concepts that were flawed to some degree or another. This hard-headed mentality led to delays and time that would have been much better spent elsewhere. I eventually realized that secret to moving forward required me to looks beyond myself  and towards my consumers.

In order to get on and stay on a path towards success you have to engage your customers early and often. Dave Gerheardt of Drift recently wrote a blog on this.  In addition to things product development, customers can help you hone areas like marketing. Consumers today have an incredible ability to influence their networks, which can have a tremendous impact on your market. One way we  learned to harness this power at The Audible was  by establishing brand ambassador programs. This ended up being the the most important piece of our growth. Our team of brand ambassadors who would engage with their  networks, ultimately expanding our own.

Don’t fear failure

Failure is neither a bad or a good thing. Ultimately, you will be judged on how you learn from your failures and evolve. Failure provides opportunity for you to reassess, evaluate and iterate. This can promote innovation and lead to your next success. Every single successful business and entrepreneur has failed at some point.

In the early months at The Audible, we decided to release massive content projects that didn’t receive traffic. By analyzing this failure, we were able to make the appropriate adjustments and saw tremendous success from the rejiggered approach. I wouldn’t say you should welcome failure, but I believe that as an entrepreneur you should always look to learn from mistakes.

It’s true: age is just a number

Apart from the rare under-18 tech genius, entrepreneurship can seems like a path dominated by adults. According to the Kauffman Foundation, the median age of a founder of a high growth company is 40. Yet, those adult years are the most risky. So why aren’t there more young entrepreneurs out there? In large part, we are not exposed to entrepreneurship in education. Even in college, in order to “learn” how to become an entrepreneur you have to select a specific course path.  That needs to change, and in time, I’m confident that it will.

As a young person, here’s my advice: turn your true passions into your business. I live by the motto Y.O.L.O (You Only Live Once). While it might be cliched it reminds me to always strive for my passions. Never let your age become a roadblock.  Continue to set dreams and goals and go for them. When it comes down to the finish line, success won’t be defined by your age.

Network, network, & network some more

Every entrepreneur knows the importance of networking. It’s truly not what you know, but who you know in this ecosystem. Building and cultivating connections is vital to growth. From my business mentors, I’ve learned how become an effective networker and this has allowed me to build an extensive rolodex of people, from Fortune 500 CEOs to local business leaders. These connections have helped me grow my business, innovate internally, and constantly grow as an entrepreneur.

The most important networking you can do is looking for your team. Finding people who share your passions and drive can be incredibly challenging. Networking increases your ability to run into likeminded people and eventually meet people that you can be part of your dream team.

Change the World

A bit optimistic? Of course. But it’s more about the mindset. You should never look  at business/entrepreneurship as a means to material gains. Bill Gates didn’t look at a computer and see fancy homes, Ferraris, or Lambos. He saw something that he could revolutionize and affect people’s’ lives with. Entrepreneurship and your entrepreneurial journey should be molded by the concept of just that — making people’s lives better.

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do” – Steve Jobs.

What are the 5 most important things you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey? We’d love to hear from you!

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