I often get asked advice from young people who are interested in starting their own businesses, and what I tell them is, “Don’t do what I did!”
Okay, that’s not exactly true. As the owner of three companies, I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship as an exciting and rewarding career path. But I also recognize that times have changed. Today’s startup scene is very different than it was when I dropped out of college to launch my own business more than 20 years ago. Starting a company has actually become considerably harder for young people. Income levels have dropped while student debt has risen. Financing has gotten tougher to secure, and government regulation has gotten tighter.
Nonetheless, running one’s own business is a common Millennial aspiration, just as it was a dream of mine. Two-thirds of all Millennials, in fact, want to start their own businesses, according to a 2014 Bentley University study, and they consistently express the need for freedom, flexibility and opportunities to grow in their work – goals that can’t always be realized as employees. So where does the answer lie? Is there a third way for ambitious self-starters?
Franchising Has Come a Long Way
Now before you inwardly groan and dismiss the idea, you should know that a lot has changed in the franchise world. No longer are all franchises simply cookie-cutter business clones lacking in creativity and freedom. Franchising may still be synonymous with the McDonald’s and Subways of the world, conjuring images of assembly-line work and top-down corporate leadership. But today’s franchises, when done right, are more like startup incubators. It’s a chance for young people to try their hand at entrepreneurship with support, hands-on learning and the opportunity to collaborate with peers.
New-school franchising makes the most of modern-day concepts like crowdsourcing, peer mentoring and even the agility to pivot as new needs arise. Success depends less on conformity than on passion and creativity, the very same principle driving innovation in the tech space. Our new partners start with an intensive, two-week program where they get the same kind of education you’d find in a business incubator. We pair them up with experienced owners so they can learn from those who’ve been on the frontlines for years. We offer capital to partners who are willing to test new marketing strategies and share their results across the network. And we never just summarily impose rules from HQ; we involve everyone in decision-making and forge our way forward together.
I often refer to this new breed of franchising as “entrypreneurship” because I’ve seen it function as a gateway for aspiring entrepreneurs who otherwise don’t have access to the expertise or capital to start on their own.
A New Narrative for Business Success
Across my organization, I hear stories about new partners who were hungry for something different. They wanted a way to exercise their creativity and ambition, and to own the fruits of their own labor. They needed an entry point to the entrepreneurial world – and they found us. These stories are becoming more and more common, and there’s nothing I like to hear more.
I get that franchising isn’t exactly the same experience as starting your own business. But it is a chance to take a tested idea into a new market with the freedom and flexibility to grow it yourself. You benefit from the support of mentors, access to capital and shared best practices, all the while maintaining control over day-to-day operations in your own shop. Who knows, it may just be the start of the successful business story you’ll be telling 20 years from now.