Of all the lessons I learned running a startup, figuring out how to deal with people who did not take us seriously solely because of our age might have been the most important. Many times, I could tell that the person on the other end of the telephone or across the desk was thinking “who are these kids and why are they talking to me?” It was obvious that being young hurt our credibility before we even said a word. We were confident in our idea and business plan and were usually able to get past any initial credibility issues, but it was a definite obstacle. In general, other entrepreneurs, VCs and angels were more likely to take us seriously from the start, compared to professionals or employees of other companies. After a few shaky meetings and calls, we asked for advice from our lawyer and other successful entrepreneurs who had been through the same process.
We realized that many people who were older than us had an image of young people in their heads that was hard to break. Many older people thought that young people were lazy, lacked direction and would not follow through on a project. From the beginning, we always were professional, well dressed, on time and prepared, but we realized we had to overcompensate if we wanted to get through to people more quickly. Here’s what worked for us:
- Do Your Research – We spent hours researching any possible question someone might have so that we would never be surprised.
- Cut the Humor – In most cases, older people equate younger people with fooling around and not being serious. Many times, jokes hurt your credibility
- Schedule Morning Meetings – Many people were surprised when we would ask for meetings from 7-9am, as it shattered the mold of young people sleeping in.
- Be Persistent – If you want a meeting, keep calling and leave professional messages. You will be rewarded for your efforts.
- Articulate Your Goals – We sent short lists of what we wanted to cover during meetings or calls the day before, as it put the person in a serious frame of mind.
- Talk Less, Listen More – Young people are stereotyped as know-it-alls. Talk less and listen more and people will take you more seriously.
While most of these are common sense and can be used with any audience whether they are younger or older, its important to remember your audience. We used these strategies and success followed. Have you ever not been taken seriously because of your age? Do you agree that its necessary to overcompensate for youth for specific audiences? What other strategies have you used?