Posted on July 7, 2017 by staff

Lessons from the next generation


I was still a teenager when I first felt the pang of career jealousy toward someone younger than me – even if she’d been dead for nearly 200 years.

Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein at 19, so I decided I was going to write my first novel before I was 20 too. Unfortunately, aside from some terrible angsty poetry, I took absolutely zero steps toward actually putting pen to paper.

A decade later I’ve decided that – while I’d still love to write a book – the first thing I need to do is stop resenting people who are younger and more successful than me.

In that spirit on Tuesday I went to FoundHER, a festival for future female entrepreneurs, to hear two young entrepreneurs speak.

Seventeen-year-old Beau set up her website Specialname to help Chinese parents choose English names for their kids. Using the site’s algorithm, parents can select which qualities they want the names to reflect.

Beau came up with the idea after a family friend asked her to pick a baby name on a trip to China. She realised that a lot of Chinese families pick names they’ve heard in films, like Rolex, Cinderella and – potentially the best baby name I’ve ever heard – Gandalf.

This might sound a bit farfetched but while I was living in China I met people who had been given English names like Apple and Star.

Twenty-four-year-old Anastasia’s website, Palette, is a social platform for makeup artists and fans, which is also thriving.

Anastasia and Beau might be ahead of the curve but clearly the younger generation have a lot to offer. So, instead of being jealous of their early success, what lessons we can learn from ‘the youths’?

Firstly, kids are getting tech-ed up younger and younger, which means it’s likely that tech entrepreneurs are just going to keep getting younger too. As I saw on Tuesday, we need to realise that their stories and experiences are just as important as those of older entrepreneurs.

Despite the stereotype of lazy teenagers, commitment was another thing that the two young women have in spades. Beau is studying for her A-Levels while running a business and Anastasia works two other jobs to support Palette.

There’s also resilience and impressive self-belief. Anastasia said she showed Palette to some makeup artists who then ripped it off to start their own site, but she didn’t give up.

“You’re driving your business, no one else. People wouldn’t invest in Palette if I wasn’t there,” she said. “Someone else could copy Palette but they wouldn’t be me or my team.”

It’s also a lesson in not underestimating people, which both Anastasia and Beau said has happened to them time and again by people who assumed they were just novelty acts. Clearly those people are the ones who have a lot to learn.

The girls’ focus was incredible too – as any entrepreneur knows it has to be.

“Palette is my whole world, I’m obsessed with it,” said Anastasia.

Beau’s advice? “Envision what you want from your business. Adapt to change, be flexible but don’t compromise. Keep your vision in sight and you’ll do better than you thought you could.”

On the flipside of all of this, just because tech feels like a young person’s game, don’t feel like it boxes you out if you left your school days behind a while ago. Dame Stephanie Shirley was on our ‘100 Female Role Models in Tech’ list last year and she’s 83.

In the Q&A Beau was asked what business networks are out there for under-18s who can’t attend events in places like bars.

She said she’s struggled to find any, so it’s clear that we need to be putting aside any assumptions and lingering jealousy, and asking the next generation what they need from us.

Despite our differences, Mary Shelley is still a role model of mine, and now I have two new ones as well. If you want to learn something new you need to find different kinds of people to look up to – especially those that don’t fit the typical mould, because they’re often the game-changers.

As Anastasia said: “If people think you don’t fit in, stand out.”